Key Points about Lung Cancer 

  • Most people who develop lung cancer have smoked at some point.
  • Long-term exposure to secondhand smoke and certain chemicals can also increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Treatment for lung cancer may include surgery to remove cancerous cells and/or therapies to destroy cancerous cells.

Overview

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that affects your lung. While lung cancer most often affects smokers, it can also affect those who have never smoked. Lung cancer is a common cancer, and it is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. More people die from lung cancer each year than they do from colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancers combined. 

Lung cancer causes 

Most people who develop lung cancer are smokers or have smoked in the past. Quitting smoking even after smoking for years can help your lungs become healthier and reduce your chances of developing lung cancer. 

Lung cancer risk factors

Factors that can increase your risk for developing lung cancer include:

  • Being a smoker
  • Being exposed to asbestos, arsenic, chromium and nickel
  • Being exposed to radon gas
  • Being exposed to secondhand smoke over time
  • Having a family history of lung cancer

Lung cancer symptoms

In its early stages, lung cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms. In its more advanced stages, lung cancer may cause the following:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Headache
  • Hoarseness
  • New, persistent cough
  • Pain in your bones
  • Pain in your chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unintentional weight loss

Lung cancer diagnosis

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose leukemia:

  • Imaging tests. Your doctor may order an imaging test – such as an X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan – to check for a mass or nodule. Once diagnosed, your specialist may recommend additional imaging tests to help stage the cancer and determine your best course of treatment.
  • Sputum cytology. If you currently have a cough and are producing sputum, your doctor may recommend sending a sputum sample to the lab for closer analysis.
  • Biopsy. Your specialist may remove a small tissue sample for closer analysis in the lab.

Lung cancer treatment

Treatment for lung cancer may include one or more of the following options:

  • Wedge resection. In this procedure, your specialist removes the cancerous area of the lung plus a margin of healthy tissue.
  • Segmental resection. In this procedure, your specialist removes a larger portion of the lung, but not the entire lobe.
  • Lobectomy. In this procedure, your specialist removes the entire lobe of one lung.
  • Pneumonectomy. In this procedure, your specialist removes one entire lung.
  • Radiation therapy. This treatment uses high-energy beams – such as X-ray or protons – to destroy cancer cells. People typically have to undergo several rounds of radiation therapy treatment for results.
  • Chemotherapy. This treatment involves using medications – either oral (by mouth) or intravenous (by vein) – to destroy cancer cells.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.