According to the Lungevity Foundation, one out of every 16 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer – an average rate of one new diagnosis every 2.3 minutes.

What many people don’t know is that up to 15 percent of these cases happen to people who have never smoked! In this article, learn everything you need to know about lung cancer.

What Is Lung Cancer?

Mayo Clinic explains that cancer of the lung is cancer that starts in the lungs. However, this type of cancer often spreads fast and may quickly move to surrounding tissues and organs.

The American Cancer Society states that there are three main types of lung cancer: non-small cell, small cell, and carcinoid.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell is the most frequently diagnosed type. Approximately 85 percent of diagnoses are non-small cell.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

Also called oat cell cancer, about 10 to 15 percent of newly diagnosed patients have this type of rapidly progressing cancer.

Carcinoid Tumor Lung Cancer

Carcinoid tumor is quite rare. This type of cancer is slow to advance and tends to stay contained in the lungs.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Cancer of the lungs can be difficult to detect since many people don’t have any symptoms in the earliest stages. 

Once symptoms do arise, these are the most common patient-reported warning signs:

  •  Coughing chronically
  •  Blood comes up with coughing
  •  Chest pain
  •  Shortness of breath
  •  Wheezing or hoarseness
  •  Unexplained weight loss
  •  Headache
  •  Pain that feels like it is coming from the bones
  •  Back pain

Causes & Risk Factors

The most notable risk factor for lung cancer is smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. This single risk factor causes an estimated 90 percent of lung cancer cases annually. 

Radon exposure is the next most common risk factor, followed by genetics, age, and exposure to toxins such as asbestos.

Cancer of the Lung Stages

Lung cancer, like other types of cancer, progresses in stages. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explains that in the earliest stages, the cancer is confined to the lungs. At later stages, cancer may spread to the surrounding tissues, organs, and lymph nodes.

There is a different progression for non-small cell lung cancer than for small cell lung cancer.

Non-Small Cell Cancer Stages

Non-small cell cancer typically progresses through five stages.

Stage 1: Lung cancer begins inside the lung(s).

Stage 2: Lung cancer begins to migrate to nearby tissues and lymph nodes.

Stage 3: Lung cancer spreads into the middle chest lymph nodes.

Stage 3A: Lung cancer spreads to the lymph nodes on the side where the cancer first developed.

Stage 3B: Lung cancer spreads to the lymph nodes on both sides of the chest.

Stage 4: Lung cancer spreads to both lungs, surrounding lymph nodes, surrounding tissues and/or organs.

Small Cell Cancer Stages

Small cell cancer typically progresses through two stages as outlined here.

Limited stage: In this stage, the cancer is in one lung and sometimes the lymph nodes on that side.

Extensive stage: When small cell lung cancer spreads beyond the limited stage, it is diagnosed as extensive stage no matter where it is found.

Lung Cancer Diagnosis

As Healthline outlines, several different diagnostic tests can be done to determine the type of cancer as well as the stage. 

Imaging

Imaging tests can often identify the presence of abnormal tissue or tumors. X-rays, MRI, PET and CT scans are all commonly used in the diagnostic process.

Biopsy

It is important to obtain tissue samples to properly identify the specific type of cancer. Needle biopsy, bronchoscopy, and mediastinoscopy are all used to obtain tissue samples.

Sputum cytology tests can also look for cancer cells in mucus produced during coughing.

Treatment & Prognosis

Today, treating cancer of the lung often begins with genetic testing to determine the appropriate treatment protocol. 

Treatment depends on the stage. Surgery to remove cancerous tissue may be sufficient in very early stages. 

Chemotherapy and radiation are often combined with surgery in later stages to reduce the risk of cancer spreading.

In advanced stages, chemotherapy may be used to shrink masses before doing surgery. Immunotherapy is a newer option to boost the body’s ability to fight off the spread of cancer. 

Alternative remedies like acupuncture, meditation, yoga, and massage can help ease pain and reduce side effects from medication. 

Prevention

Currently, there is no known method to completely prevent the risk of cancer in the lungs. However, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of contracting this type of cancer.

The most important action you can take is to refrain from smoking or inhaling someone else’s secondhand smoke. It is also important to have your home and workplace tested for toxins and carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) such as radon and asbestos.

Being aware of your family medical history is another important factor in lessening your risk. Genetic tests exist and are used for diagnosis and treatment purposes as well as family planning and prevention.

By understanding how lung cancer develops and is detected and treated, you can lessen your personal and family risk.