Lung cancer 101

Lung cancer 101

Lung cancer it is the second most common form of cancer. But over the past 20 years, lung cancer rates have gone down for men, but up for women. And that includes women who have never smoked.

Indeed, lung cancer kills 171 women a day – more than any other form of cancer.

Cigarette smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. And women who smoke are more likely to develop lung cancer than men who smoke. But did you know? 2 out of 10 Are cases of lung cancer diagnosed in people who don’t smoke? In fact, nearly 1 in 4 women with lung cancer do not smoke.

Learn more about lung cancer symptoms and who to see if you’re concerned about your risks.

What causes lung cancer?

Lung cancer it is caused by cancer cells growing in the lungs. Cancer it occurs when old or abnormal cells in the body do not die as they should, but instead multiply. As cancer cells grow and multiply, they form a mass, called a tumor, which can take over and destroy normal, healthy tissue.

What are the types of lung cancer?

There are two types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). NSCLC makes up about 85 out of 100 cases of lung cancer, and SCLC makes up the other 15 cases.

SCLC is aggressive and fast. By the time it is diagnosed, it has likely spread to other areas. NSCLC is less aggressive. But it is usually discovered at a later stage. In fact, only about 1 in 4 people with NSCLC are diagnosed in the early stages (stage 1 or stage 2). In 4 out of 10 cases of NSCLC, the cancer has usually spread to other parts of the body before diagnosis.

What are the risk factors for lung cancer?

Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, but people who don’t smoke can also get lung cancer. Risk factors for lung cancer to include:

  • Breathing in toxic substances such as cigarette smoke, radon, asbestos, air pollution and diesel exhaust, and workplace chemicals such as arsenic and vinyl chloride
  • Exposure to radioactive minerals, such as uranium
  • Drink water contaminated with arsenic
  • Previous radiotherapy to the lungs
  • Family history of lung cancer

What are the signs and symptoms of lung cancer?

Lung cancer symptoms can be different depending on the type, location in the lungs, and whether the cancer has spread. You may not have any symptoms of lung cancer in the early stages. Early signs of lung cancer can also be similar to upper respiratory infections such as the common cold. However, noncancerous infections tend to clear up within a week or two.

The most common symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away, changes, or gets worse
  • Coughing up blood or spitting up blood
  • Chest pain when breathing deeply, coughing or laughing
  • A hoarse voice
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness and tiredness
  • Recurring infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Wheezing

Lung cancer it can spread to the lymph nodes, brain, bones, adrenal glands, liver and other organs, which can lead to further symptoms.

Who should you see if you have symptoms?

If you have symptoms of lung cancer, contact your general practitioner (PCP) who will ask about your medical history and risk factors, such as smoking. Your answers and the results of the physical exam will determine if you need it more evidencesuch as a chest x-ray or bone scan.

Who makes up the lung cancer care team?

If you have lung cancer, there will be many specialists in your care team who work together to manage your treatment plan. These may include:

  • Medical Oncologist: Create an overall treatment plan for chemotherapy and other medical treatments
  • Radiation oncologist: Provides radiation therapy
  • Thoracic surgeon: operates on the organs of the chest, including the lungs
  • interventional pulmonologist: helps diagnose and stage lung cancer and provides treatment
  • Pathologist: studies bodily tissues and bodily fluids and makes a diagnosis of the specific type of cancer
  • Radiologist: Interprets X-rays, CT and PET scans, and MRIs
  • Rehabilitation specialist: teaches people about their condition and helps them cope with symptoms to improve their quality of life
  • Palliative care team: Help manage pain and improve quality of life
  • Mental health professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers) — provide support for mental and emotional well-being
  • Clergy or Spiritual Care: Provides support and guidance for religious and spiritual concerns

Why are women at higher risk of lung cancer?

Scientists I’m not sure why women are at higher risk of lung cancer than men. There may be something different about the functioning of women’s immune systems or their genes that puts them at greater risk, even when they’ve never smoked.

Talk to your healthcare professional if you notice changes in your breathing or if you have symptoms of lung cancer. It doesn’t matter if you smoke or not: the sooner lung cancer is diagnosed, the better.


American Lung Association

American Cancer Society

This resource was created with support from Merck.

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