Lung Cancer – The Basics
Lung cancer is the deadliest form of cancer among both men and women. Lung cancer claims more lives than colon, prostate, lymph, and breast cancer combined. Smoking accounts for nearly 90 percent of lung cancer cases.
The lungs contain many different types of cells. Most of them are epithelial cells that line the airways and produce mucus which lubricates and protects the lung. Nerve cells, hormone-producing cells, blood cells, and structural or supporting cells are also found in the lungs.
- Researchers have found that it takes a series of genetic changes to create a lung cancer cell. Lung cancer begins when cells in the lung grow out of control and form a lump.
- The general types of lung cancer include small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer occurs almost exclusively in heavy smokers. Non-small cell lung cancer is an umbrella term for several types of lung cancers that behave in a similar way.
- Once a cancerous lung tumor begins to grow, it may or may not shed cancer cells. Shed cells can be carried away in blood or float way in the natural fluid called lymph that surrounds lung tissue. Lymph flows through tubes (lymphatic vessels) that drain into lymph nodes located in the lungs, the center of the chest, and other parts in the body.
- Common places for lung cancer to spread include: bones, brain, liver, lymph nodes, and adrenal glands.
Lung cancer can take years to develop and it doesn’t cause signs or symptoms in its earliest stages. The average age of a person diagnosed with lung cancer is 69.
Signs and symptoms may include: shortness of breath, wheezing, hoarseness, chest pain, a new cough that doesn’t go away, coughing up blood, swelling of the neck/face, fatigue, loss of appetite, repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis, and weight loss.
Smoking remains the greatest risk factor for lung cancer. Quitting at any age can significantly lower the risk of developing lung cancer.
- Exposure to secondhand smoke, radon gas, asbestos, industrial substances (arsenic, chromium, nickel, tar soot) radiation, and air pollution increases risk. Test your home for radon.
- People with a parent, sibling or other first-degree relative with lung cancer have an increased risk.
- Excessive alcohol consumption may increase risk.
Sources: CDC, National Cancer Institute, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, Mayo Clinic, U.S. National Library of Medicine, American Cancer Society, American Society of Clinical Oncology, and Washington and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals. For additional information, consult your physician.