Lung Cancer: Patient Education
Lung cancer is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States today.
It begins when lung cells change into a mass or tumor, which can be either noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). In some cases, malignant tumors can grow uncontrollably and spread throughout your body through your lymph system or your bloodstream. When cancer has spread beyond its original location, it is said to have metastasized.
Primary lung cancer originates in the lung (the primary cancer site). If a cancer has begun in another organ and spread into your lungs, it is not considered lung cancer.
There are four main types of tumors that can develop in your lungs:
- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) begins in the lining of your lungs. About 85 to 90 percent of lung cancers are NSCLC.
- Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) begins in the nerve cells or hormone-producing cells in your lungs. It’s called “small cell” because the cancer cells have a small appearance under a microscope. About 10 to 15 percent of lung cancers are SCLC.
- Mesothelioma begins in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart, or your chest cavity. It's usually caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. See Mesothelioma - malignant and Mesothelioma (benign-fibrous).
- Carcinoid tumors are an uncommon type of neuroendocrine tumor that develops in your lung. There are two kinds of carcinoid tumors of the lung:
- typical — slow growing and rarely spread
- atypical — faster growing and may spread to other organs
The cause of lung cancer is usually smoking. Not all smokers get lung cancer, and, of course, not all lung cancer patients smoke, but most of them do.
Smoking causes most cases of lung cancer. Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in this country. Tobacco use kills more Americans than AIDS, alcohol, drug abuse, car crashes, murders, suicides and fires combined.
Smoking accounts for more than 85 percent of all lung cancer deaths. Cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco are not safe substitutes for smoking cigarettes. With these, you’re at a greater risk for cancers of the:
Exposure to secondhand smoke accounts for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in healthy nonsmokers.
What about genetics? There’s currently considerable research into finding out more about genetic susceptibility to lung cancer; however, a single genetic cause for lung cancer has not been determined, and lung cancer is not considered a feature of any known hereditary cancer predisposition conditions at this time.
Yet if you or your physician are concerned that you or a member of your family may have a hereditary form of cancer, a referral to the Scott & White Cancer Genetics Clinic for genetic counseling to determine whether you have a genetic predisposition to the disease may be requested.