Lung cancer is the leading cause of all cancer deaths in the United States. There are two classifications of lung cancer. The diagnosis of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) or Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) is based on the type of cells present, and how they look under a microscope. The cells in each of these classes of lung cancer behave in very different ways and therefore are treated differently.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer is the most common kind of cancer. It doesn’t grow as quickly as Small Cell Lung Cancer. This classification of cancer includes three sub-types:
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Large Cell Carcinoma
While diagnosing Small Cell Lung Cancer is less common, this form of lung cancer is more aggressive. While it develops in the lungs, Small Cell Lung Cancer can metastasize to other body parts.
This classification of lung cancer is also referred to as:
Oat Cell Cancer
Oat Cell Carcinoma
Small Cell Undifferentiated Carcinoma
Some of the known risk factors for lung cancer are Smoking: Smoking is the greatest risk factor for lung cancer. Tobacco smoke causes more than 8 out of 10 lung cancer deaths. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of developing lung cancer as well.
Chemical exposure: Certain professions where workers are regularly exposed to harmful chemicals can lead to an increased risk. They include but are not limited to the following:
Agricultural / Landscapers
Some Healthcare Workers
Workers exposed to Radon Gas
Diseases: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Pulmonary Fibrosis, and Tuberculosis place someone at higher risk for lung cancer.
Family history: There is an increased risk when immediate family members have had the disease, especially at a young age.
Medical history: Individuals with previous exposure to radiation have an increased risk.
Some signs and symptoms of lung cancer are:
With both types of lung cancer, signs and symptoms often appear when the disease is advanced. However, they are different for each person. It’s important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your physician.
Cough that does not go away
Chest pain, made worse by deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
Weight loss and loss of appetite
Bloody or rust-colored sputum
New onset of wheezing or shortness of breath
Reoccurring infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
Joint or bone pain
Screening & Diagnosis
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that patients discuss their health history and individual risk factors with their physician to determine if lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan is recommended. This includes individuals who are in one of these groups:
Group 1 individuals aged 55 to 77 with a 30 or more pack-year history who currently smoke or quit less than 15 years ago
Group 2 individuals aged 50 or older with a 20 or more pack-year history who are either current or former smokers with at least one additional risk factor such as the personal history of lung cancer, family history of lung cancer in first-degree relatives, radon exposure, and occupational exposure
A complete physical exam and medical history should be made. The exam will check for any unusual physical signs. A complete medical history is also important to fully understand a person’s health habits, family history, previous illnesses, and past exposure.
Several tests can be used to diagnose lung cancer, determine the type and staging, and identify specific genetic characteristics or gene mutations of a tumor, including:
Imaging: MRI, CT, and PET-CT of the chest
Microscopic examination of sputum
Fine Needle Aspiration
Treatment for lung cancer can include:
Helpful Patient Resources:
We understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a very scary and emotional time for patients and their families. It is very important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your oncologist. We highly recommend that if you do any research about your disease, you do so only with reputable sources. For your convenience, we’ve listed some below.