Patient Resources

About Lung Cancer

About Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of both men and women. Lung cancer is responsible for more cancer-related deaths than breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer combined. 

Lung cancer is a term used to describe a growth of abnormal cells inside the lung. These cells divide and grow at a much quicker rate than normal cells. The cancerous cells stick together to form a cluster and this abnormal cluster of cells is called a tumor.

If the cancer cells first started growing in the lungs, the tumor is called a primary lung tumor. However, if the lung cancer cells break off and travel through the blood vessels they may latch on to and start to grow in other parts of the body e.g. the bones. This new cancer growth is called a metastasis or secondary tumor.

There are two different types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which accounts for 85% of the cases, and small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer can further be classified by histolgy, how the cells and tissue look under a microscope. The major subtypes of NSCLC are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma but there are other subtypes as well. Adenocarcinoma is the most common, representing about 40 percent, whereas squamous cell carcinoma represents about 30%.

Risk Factors

Smoking remains the greatest risk factor for lung cancer. Your risk of lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke each day and the number of years you have smoked. Quitting at any age can significantly lower your risk of developing lung cancer. Even if you don't smoke, your risk of lung cancer increases if you're exposed to secondhand smoke.

Exposure to asbestos and other chemicals. Workplace exposure to asbestos and other substances known to cause cancer — such as arsenic, chromium and nickel — also can increase your risk of developing lung cancer, especially if you're a smoker.

Exposure to radon gas can increase your risk of lung cancer. Radon is produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water that eventually becomes part of the air you breathe. Unsafe levels of radon can accumulate in any building, including homes. Radon testing kits, which can be purchased at home improvement stores, can determine whether levels are safe. If unsafe levels are discovered, remedies are available.

If you have a family history of lung cancer, a parent, sibling or child with lung cancer, then you may have an increased risk of the disease.

Excessive alcohol use may increase your risk of lung cancer. Drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol — no more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men, can increase your risk of the disease. 

Early Symptoms

Please discuss any symptoms you are having with your doctor. 

Symptoms of lung cancer that are in the chest:

  • Coughing, especially if it persists or becomes intense
  • Pain in the chest, shoulder, or back unrelated to pain from coughing
  • A change in color or volume of sputum
  • Shortness of breath
  • Changes in the voice or being hoarse
  • Harsh sounds with each breath (stridor)
  • Recurrent lung problems, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Coughing up phlegm or mucus, especially if it is tinged with blood
  • Coughing up blood
  • Pain or aching in your chest, shoulder, back or an arm