What to know about lung cancer

Lung cancer occurs when cells divide in the lungs in an uncontrolled way. This causes the growth of tumors. These can reduce a person's ability to breathe and spread to other parts of the body.

Lung cancer is he third most common cancer and the main cause cancer-related death in the United States. It is more common in males, and in the United States, black males are about 15% more likely to develop it than whites.

Smoking is a major risk factor, although not all people who develop lung cancer have a history of smoking.

Lung cancer can be deadly, but effective diagnoses and treatments are improving the outlook.

This article explains what lung cancer is, how to recognize the symptoms, and what treatment options are available.

What is lung cancer?

The Cancer it causes changes in cells that are otherwise healthy. The cells they grow too fast, without dying.

Normal cells in the body usually die at a certain stage in their life cycle, preventing too many cells from accumulating. However, in cancer, cells keep growing and multiplying. As a result, tumors develop.

The two main types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, depending on how they appear under the microscope. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer.

Anyone can develop lung cancer, but smoking and being exposed to smoke, inhaled chemicals, or other toxins can increase the risk.

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for healthy aging, visit our dedicated hub.


The main types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. They are differentiated by the size of the cell, as seen under a microscope.

Non-small cell lung cancer

Around 84% of lung cancer cases in the United States are non-small cell. There are three subtypes:

    • adenocarcinoma
    • squamous cell cancer
    • large cell carcinoma

Small cell lung cancer

Around 13% of lung cancer cases in the United States are small cell. This type tends to grow faster than non-small cell lung cancer.

Symptoms and signs

People with lung cancer may not have any symptoms until a later stage. If symptoms appear, they may resemble those of a respiratory infection.

Some possible symptomsTrusted sources include:

    • changes in the person's voice, such as hoarseness
    • Frequent chest infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
    • Swelling in the lymph nodes in the center of the chest
    • a persistent cough that may start to get worse
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath and wheezing

In time, a person you can also experience more serious symptoms, such as:

    • severe pain in the chest
    • Bone pain and bone fractures
    • Headaches
    • Coughing up blood
    • blood clots
    • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Fatigue

Learn more about the early signs of lung cancer here.


Cancer staging describes how far it has spread through the body and how severe it is. Staging helps healthcare professionals and individuals decide on an appropriate treatment.

The most basic form of staging is as follows:

    • localized, in which the cancer is in a limited area
    • regional, in which the cancer has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes
    • distant, in which the cancer has spread to other parts of the body

Similar to this is the system TNM staging. Health professionals assess the size and extent of the tumor, whether or not it affects the lymph nodes, and whether or not it has spread elsewhere.

There are also specific ways to stage non-small cell and small cell lung cancer.

Learn more about the stages of lung cancer here.

Stages of non-small cell lung cancer

Healthcare professionals often use the size and extent of the tumor to describe the stages of non-small cell lung cancer, as follows:

      • Hidden, or hidden: Cancer does not show up on imaging scans, but cancer cells may show up in phlegm or mucus.
      • State 0: There are only abnormal cells in the upper layers of the cells that line the airways.
      • Stage 1: There is a tumor in the lung, but it is 4 centimeters (cm) or smaller and has not spread to other parts of the body.
      • Stage 2:
      • Stage 2:
      • Stage 2:
      • This stage is the one that occurs in the lung, but it is 4 centimeters (cm) or less and has not spread to other parts of the body.
      • Stage 2: The tumor is 7 cm or smaller and may have spread to nearby tissues and lymph nodes.
      • Stage 3: The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and has spread to other parts of the lung and the surrounding area.
      • Stage 4: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the bones or the brain.
      • Stages of Small Cell Lung CancerSmall cell lung cancer has their own categories. The stages are known as limited and extensive, and refer to whether the cancer has spread inside or outside of the lungs.

        In the limited stage, the cancer affects only one side of the chest, although it may already be present in some surrounding lymph nodes.

        About a third of people with this type of cancer discover it when it is in the limited stage. Healthcare professionals can treat you with radiation therapy as a single area.

        In the extensive stage, the cancer has spread beyond one side of the breast. It can affect the other lung or other parts of the body.

        About two-thirds of people with small cell lung cancer find they have it when it is already in the extensive stage.

        Survival rate

        According to American Cancer Society, your chances of surviving for 5 years or more after being diagnosed with lung cancer are as follows.

        The percentages reflect the chances of a person surviving with lung cancer compared to the chances that a person surviving without lung cancer.

        Non-small cell lung cancer

        Small cell lung cancer
        ControlGetting regular screening may be a good idea for people at high risk of developing lung cancer. Screening is done with a low-dose CT scan. American Lung Association recommends screening if a person meets all of the following criteria:

      • you are between 55 and 80 years old
      • have a history of heavy smoking (30 years of packs, that is, one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years)


      • You currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years

    Insurance usually covers this screening if the person is between 55 and 80 years old and has private health insurance or is between 55 and 77 years old, has Medicare and meets all other criteria, however, people should check with their company insurance before signing up for lung cancer screening.


    • If a person has any symptoms that may indicate lung cancer or if the screening shows something unusual, a healthcare professional will likely recommend some.

diagnostic tests

    • .

Imaging tests

    • An X-ray, CT scan, MRI, or PET scan may reveal areas of lung tissue with cancer. If the cancer has spread, imaging tests can also reveal changes in the bones and other organs. Scans can also help track the progress of treatment.

Tissue sample

    • A healthcare professional may want to take a biopsy to check for cancer cells. You will use a fine needle or a bronchoscope to do this.


    • A bronchoscope is a thin, lighted instrument with a camera on the end that enters the lungs through the mouth or nose. It can be used by a healthcare professional to search for lesions and take samples; for less accessible lesions, they may use a more invasive surgical procedure, such as thoracoscopy or video-assisted thoracic surgery, to remove lung tissue.

Other samples

      • Laboratory tests can also reveal whether or not cancer is present in the:

      • pleural effusion, which is fluid that collects around the lungs


      • sputum
      • blood

    This information can help confirm whether cancer is present and, if so, determine its type and stage.

TreatmentThe treatment

      • It will depend on several factors, including:

      • the type of cancer
      • location and stadium


      • the person's general health


      • your individual preferences

    All treatment options can have adverse effects. A person should talk to their healthcare professional about the best option for them, including the pros and cons of each option.Some treatment options include:

      • surgery to remove part or all of a lung


      • chemotherapy, which refers to a drug treatment that can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors


      • radiotherapy, which uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells


      • Radiofrequency ablation, in which a healthcare professional inserts a fine needle and uses an electrical current to kill cancer cells


      • Targeted therapy, which focuses on a specific behavior to prevent tumor growth
      • Immunotherapy, which helps the body fight cancer cells


      • Palliative therapy, which includes pain relief, oxygen therapy, and other aids the person may need to control their symptoms

    A healthcare professional will work with the person and adjust their treatment plan as their needs change.


      • Lung cancer can be deadly, but emerging treatments mean that many people now survive and recover from lung cancer, especially if they are diagnosed early. Some factors that affect the likelihood of a positive result include:

      • the general health of the person


      • your age
      • the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis
      • the type of cancer they have

    It is not possible to predict exactly how cancer will affect an individual, but a healthcare professional can help a person understand what to expect by looking at test results and other factors.


    • Lung cancer is a life-threatening type of cancer, but people who are diagnosed early usually have a good chance of survival. People at high risk of developing lung cancer may consider regular screenings. This can detect early signs and allow treatment before the cancer spreads. Anyone who is concerned about their risk of lung cancer should speak to their healthcare professional.


Located 63%
Regional 35%
Distant 7%
In general 25%
Located 27%
Regional 16%
Distant 3%
In general 7%
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