There is no such thing as a routine lung cancer.
Although it’s the second most diagnosed cancer in the United States (more than 220,000 cases each year), it is by far the leading cancer-causing death in men and women. However, lung cancer survival rates continue to improve, thanks in large part to a decrease in tobacco use as well as new, individualized and targeted therapies like those discovered at OSUCCC – James.
Lung cancer is not just one disease, but many different ones that are treated very differently — often even having subsets within these subsets.
Lung cancer begins in the cells in the lung or the bronchi (tubes that run from the windpipe into the lungs) when normal cell growth and division are disrupted. When specific cancer genes in the cells are damaged, or mutate, it causes cancer cells to grow and multiply. When those cells grow out of control, they can spread to other parts of the body through the lymph nodes or blood vessels near the lungs. Lung cancer remains lung cancer, even after it has spread to other sites like the brain or bones.
Although smoking causes about 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer cases, exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, asbestos, air pollution and other environmental factors causes about 10 to 20 percent of all lung cancers. The effects of smoking are long-lasting, and most people diagnosed today are ex-smokers.
Kinds of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is identified by the kind of cells within the tumor, and then it is further classified by the patient’s unique genetic makeup of those cells. The two most diagnosed kinds are small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. (Cancer starting in other sites in the body can also spread to the lungs, which is called lung metastasis. This is not considered to be lung cancer.)
Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type, and is usually less aggressive than small cell lung cancer, but individual tumors in each of these lung cancer types is treated differently, depending on each patient’s individual tumor makeup.
There are also other, rarer kinds of lung cancer and even more subtypes within those kinds. Subtypes are classified by the mutated genes that drive the cancer.
At the OSUCCC – James, subspecialists perform actual tumor sequencing tests for every patient to determine his or her unique subtype of lung cancer so that they can develop an individualized plan with the most targeted, effective treatments for that particular patient.
Doing so leads to even more improved outcomes, faster responses to treatment and fewer side effects for each individual.
Lung Cancer Risk Factors
The best way to reduce lung cancer risk is to avoid or stop smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes and to avoid chewing tobacco. About 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States are related to tobacco use.
Additionally, cancer risk rises with the number of years a person has used tobacco and the amount. The damage done by smoking is also permanent, and while the risk of lung cancer goes down after smoking cessation, it never returns to normal, so even longtime ex-smokers should be aware that they have an increased risk.
Lung cancer risk is also increased for people who have other risk factors, such as:
- Family history of lung cancer
- A personal history of lung cancer
- Exposure to certain materials such as radiation, arsenic, radon or asbestos
- A history of radiation therapy to the breast or chest
- Exposure to secondhand smoke or air pollution
- A history of lung diseases such as tuberculosis (TB)
Low-dose CT scans have been shown to reduce the number of deaths from lung cancer in people at high risk of the disease. To schedule a lung cancer screening, call the OSUCCC – James at 800-293-5066.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
The inside of the chest is a large space, so lung cancer can grow and advance to a large size before a patient has any symptoms.
All people, but particularly those at high risk for lung cancer, including anyone who smokes cigarettes, has a history of using any kind of tobacco or has had environmental exposures such as radon, diesel exhaust, excessive air pollution and more should watch for:
- A chronic cough or one that continues to worsen
- Constant chest pain
- Frequent lung infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
- Shortness of breath and wheezing
- Coughing up blood
- Feeling weak or tired
- Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss