About Lung Cancer
Lung cancer occurred in approximately 1.8 million patients in 2012 and caused an estimated 1.6 million deaths. In the United States, lung cancer occurs in approximately 230,000 patients and causes over 140,000 deaths annually.
Both the absolute and relative frequency of lung cancer have risen dramatically. Around 1953, lung cancer became the most common cause of cancer deaths in men, and in 1985, it became the leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Lung cancer deaths have begun to decline in both men and women, reflecting a decrease in smoking rates.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, among both men and women. Lung cancer claims more lives each year than do colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancers combined.
Types of Lung Cancer
The term lung cancer, or bronchogenic carcinoma, refers to malignancies that originate in the airways or pulmonary parenchyma. Approximately 95 percent of all lung cancers are classified as either small cell lung cancer (SCLC) or non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). This distinction is essential for staging, treatment, and prognosis. Other cell types comprise approximately 5 percent of malignancies arising in the lung.
The major types of cancer include:
- Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) comprises approximately 10-15% of all known lung cancer cases.
- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) comprises approximately 85-90% of all known lung cancers cases.
- Adenocarcinoma arises from cells in the lung that secrete substances such as mucus (40% of lung cancers).
- Squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma arises from the flat squamous cells that line the inside of the airways of the lung (25-30% of lung cancers).
- Large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma typically arises from the epithelial cells that line the outer regions of the lung (10-15% of lung cancers).
The type of treatment patients receive for lung cancer depends on several factors, including:
- The type of lung cancer the patient has (non-small-cell or small-cell mutations on the cancer)
- The size and position of the cancer
- How advanced the cancer is (the stage)
- The patient’s overall health
- Chest discomfort or pain, persistent cough, trouble breathing, wheezing, bloody sputum
- Loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss
- Hoarseness, trouble swallowing
- Swelling in the face and/or veins in the neck
The clinical evaluation should be symptom-directed, which in turn allows appropriate imaging and invasive testing to confirm nodal or metastatic disease. Every patient with suspected NSCLC should undergo a computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest and upper abdomen (usually contrast-enhanced) to evaluate the extent of the primary tumor and potential spread to the mediastinum, liver, and adrenal glands.
A number of tests and diagnostic tools may be used to identify lung cancer and determine how advanced it is, including:
- Imaging: X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), chest computed tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans
- Staging: The extent of the cancer is determined by tumor size, whether cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes, and whether additional metastatic events have occurred.
The cancer team will make recommendations, but the final decision will be yours.
The most common treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Depending on the type of cancer and the stage, the oncologist may recommend a combination of these treatments.