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What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer begins when abnormal cells grow in one or both lungs. Abnormal cells can invade healthy lung tissue, form tumors and prevent the lung from functioning correctly, resulting in less oxygen circulating in the body.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 200,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. More deaths can be attributed to lung cancer than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined.

What Are the Types of Lung Cancer?

Two Major Types of Lung Cancer:

  • Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) - About 85 to 90 percent of lung cancers are NSCLC.
    • Squamous cell carcinoma.
    • Adenocarcinoma.
    • Large-cell.
  • Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) - About 10 percent of lung cancers are SCLC.
  • Lung Nodule - also called a pulmonary nodule, is one of the most common abnormalities seen on radiographic images, and is a small mass of tissue in the lung that is smaller than 3 cm (slightly more than an inch) in diameter. Most lung nodules are benign (noncancerous) and may be due to a previous infection in the lung or other cause; however, they may represent an early stage of primary lung cancer or they may indicate that cancer is spreading from another part of the body to the affected lung.

What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

Most lung cancers do not show signs or symptoms until advanced stages. Lung cancer symptoms may include:

  • Cough that does not go away.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain with deep breathing, laughing or coughing.
  • Coughing up blood or bloody mucus.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Wheezing.
  • Recurrent chest infections.
  • Weight loss/Loss of appetite.

To help detect lung cancer in the early stages it is recommended that you see your doctor when symptoms are first noticed. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, consult a MemorialCare Physician partner.

How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

Early Detection is the Key

Lung cancer is most treatable when identified in the earliest stages. For high-risk patients, a low-dose CT scan is designed to look for signs of lung cancer even before symptoms are present. Using advanced medical imaging equipment known as a low-dose CT scanner, the MemorialCare radiology team can see a detailed “picture” of your lungs.

People who participate in this program first undergo an initial baseline screening CT. No intravenous contrast is given. The scan is generally done in 20-30 seconds. If no significant abnormalities are identified, an annual repeat screening CT is recommended. Occasionally, abnormalities are identified which require further workups with standard-dose CT X-rays, biopsy or surgery.

Call 888-Memlung to schedule your low-dose CT screening.

What Are The Stages of Lung Cancer?

Non-small cell lung cancer stages

  • Stage 0: earliest stage; located only in the lung’s top lining or bronchus.
  • Stage I: divided into sub-stages IA and IB depending on tumor size; has not spread.
  • Stage II: divided into sub-stages IIA and IIB depending on tumor size, where it’s found, and if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes; cancer hasn’t spread to distant organs.
  • Stage III: divided into sub-stages IIIA, IIIB, IIIC depending on tumor size, location, and how far it’s spread. Typically stage III lung cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the mediastinum (area in the chest between the lungs).
  • Stage IV: most advanced form of lung cancer. The cancer has metastasized to the lining of the lung or other areas of the body.

Small cell lung cancer stages

  • Limited stage: cancer is in only one lung with or without spread to the lymph nodes in the mediastinum (area in the chest between the lungs).
  • Extensive stage: lung cancer has spread outside of the originally affected lung, to the opposite lung or distant organs.

How is Lung Cancer Treated?

Treatment for lung cancer is dependent on the type and stage of the cancer. Usually, a combination of treatments is used and doctors from different specialties work together to treat lung cancer.

How Can Lung Cancer Be Prevented?

The most important thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to not start smoking, quit if you smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.

We can help you quit.

Join us for a free 90-minute virtual orientation to learn more about classes that can help you quit nicotine. New sessions start every other month.

FAQs About Lung Cancer

Is lung cancer aggressive?

Small cell lung cancer is more aggressive and grows faster than non-small cell lung cancer. Since it spreads quickly, it is usually detected after it has spread outside of the lungs.

How do I know if I have pneumonia or lung cancer?

Shared symptoms of lung cancer and pneumonia include:

  • Cough
  • Dark mucus
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in your chest that gets worse when you breathe.
  • Shortness of breath

Pneumonia presents cold-like symptoms such as fever, chills, and headaches. If you are diagnosed with pneumonia, complete all medication as prescribed by your doctor. If your symptoms continue after your course of medication, follow-up with your doctor to re-evaluate your condition.

What are the criteria to receive a low-dose CT scan for lung cancer?

A lung cancer screening is recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force yearly for people who:

  • Are between 50 and 80 years old, and
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Have a history of heavy smoking (20 pack years or more).
    • A pack year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year.

A lung cancer screening is recommended by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services yearly for people who:

  • Are between 50 and 77 years old; and
  • Asymptomatic (no signs or symptoms of lung cancer); and
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Have a history of heavy smoking (20 pack years or more).
    • A pack year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year.
Can I still smoke if I have lung cancer?

Continuing smoking after receiving a lung cancer diagnosis is not recommended, because it can decrease the effectiveness of treatment and survival rate. MemorialCare offers smoking cessation classes to help you quit.

What support and resources does MemorialCare offer for people diagnosed with lung cancer?

Locations Treating Lung Cancer