Lung cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed malignancies in the United States. The two main types—small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer—are determined based on the characteristics of the cells involved. The most common type is non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for approximately 85% of all diagnoses and tends to grow more slowly than small cell lung cancer.
The subtypes of non-small cell lung cancer include adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma develops in the mucus-secreting cells on the outer portion of a lung. Squamous cell carcinoma forms in a large airway near the center of a lung. Large cell carcinoma often starts near the periphery of a lung and tends to grow and spread very rapidly.
What Causes Lung Cancer?
Like other types of cancer, lung cancer begins when the normal processes of cell division are disrupted, opening the door for rapid and uncontrolled cell growth. The excess cells then accumulate and form a tumor in a lung. Cancerous cells can potentially break away from the tumor and invade surrounding tissues and organs or enter the bloodstream and spread to distant parts of the body.
The primary risk factor for lung cancer is exposure to tobacco smoke. People who smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke breathe in a dangerous cocktail of harmful chemicals, including several carcinogens that can damage lung tissues and trigger the cellular DNA changes that lead to cancer. Other risk factors include exposure to high doses of radiation, radon gas and asbestos. Experts believe that genetics may also play a role in the development of lung tumors.
What Are Some Early Signs of Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer often develops over many years and may not produce noticeable symptoms in its earliest stages. Therefore, it is important for everyone—especially those who are at risk—to be vigilant for signs, such as:
- Persistent coughing
- Coughing up blood
- Vocal hoarseness
- Shortness of breath
- Recurrent respiratory infections
- Chest pain
Additionally, advanced lung cancer can cause bone pain, overwhelming fatigue, muscle weakness and unintended weight loss.
How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?
In many cases, lung cancer is diagnosed after a suspicious mass is revealed in an imaging scan performed for an unrelated reason. A physician may then order a bronchoscopy to further examine the lungs and airways and obtain a tissue sample for a biopsy, which is the only way to confirm a lung cancer diagnosis.
How Is Lung Cancer Treated?
All relevant information about the tumor and the patient, including the tumor’s type and stage and the patient’s overall health and preferences, must be taken into account to determine the best course of treatment for lung cancer. Additionally, the patient and his or her treatment team must consider the goals of treatment, which may be to control the cancer, alleviate its symptoms and/or improve the patient’s quality of life.
Lung cancer treatments that can be used alone or in combination include:
- Targeted therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Pulmonary rehabilitation
The multispecialty team of pulmonary and lung cancer specialists at Tampa General Hospital offers outstanding care for patients who are diagnosed with any type or stage of lung cancer. Our experienced clinicians take a collaborative approach to cancer treatment; together, we develop a specialized plan for each patient, which is tailored to his or her unique needs. Utilizing the most advanced techniques and technologies available, we help each patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life.