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The lungs are part of the respiratory system. (Read about "Respiratory System") Our lungs let us take in oxygen, which is needed by all our cells. The lungs also expel the waste product carbon dioxide when we breathe out. Each lung has sections called lobes. A thin membrane called the pleura surrounds the lungs. Two tubes called bronchi lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the right and left lungs. The bronchi are sometimes involved in lung cancer. Small tubes called bronchioles and tiny air sacs called alveoli make up the inside of the lungs.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. for both men and women, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The American Lung Association (ALA) says that the rate of lung cancer has been dropping among men while the rate for women is increasing.
Our LUNG CANCER RISK ASSESSMENT can help you learn more about your own risk factors, based on guidelines from the National Cancer Institute.
Simply click on the link for the form. Fill it out online to learn more about how specific things affect the risk of developing lung cancer. When you're done, you may want to print it out and share it with your doctor. Any information you enter will NOT be saved once you close the window. This is to protect your privacy. When you're done, simply close the form window, and continue reading.
Though not all cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking, the majority are, according to the National Institutes of Health. In fact, ALA says 87 percent of cases can be traced to tobacco use. It's not just cigarettes either. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says cigar and pipe smokers have a higher risk of lung cancer too. The number of years a person smokes, the amount smoked per day and how deeply the person inhales all affect the risk of developing lung cancer. In addition, ACS says the chance of developing lung cancer is increased by second-hand smoke, i.e. exposure to the smoke in the air when someone else smokes. ACS, ALA and NCI all agree the best way to reduce the risk of getting lung cancer is to quit smoking - or never start in the first place. (Read about "Quit Smoking")
There are other things that have been linked to lung cancer too, according to NCI:
Of cancers that start in the lungs, there are two main types, according to the American Lung Association (ALA): non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Each type grows and spreads in different ways and is treated differently.
For non-small cell lung cancer, the choice of treatment depends mainly on the size, location and extent of the tumor. Surgery is the most common way to treat this type of lung cancer. Cryosurgery, a treatment that freezes and destroys cancer tissue, may be used to control symptoms in the later stages of non-small cell lung cancer. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also be used to slow the progress of the disease and to manage symptoms. (Read about "Cancer Treatments" "Radiation Therapy")
Anyone who notices symptoms that can indicate the presence of lung cancer should see a doctor right away. The American Lung Association says these symptoms can include:
These symptoms, of course, may also be caused by a number of other conditions such as pneumonia (Read about "Pneumonia"), so it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible for an examination and evaluation. (Read about "Cancer Check-ups") For some people at a high risk of lung cancer - long-time smokers, for example - CT screening may be advised. Check with your health care provider.
Doctors can use several techniques to diagnose lung cancer, including imaging tests such as x-rays, PET scans, and magnetic resonance imaging. (Read about "X-rays" "PET - Positron Emission Tomography" "MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging") A technique called low-dose helical (or spiral) CT may also be used to help test for lung cancer. (Read about "CT Scan - Computerized Tomography") Bronchoscopy can also be used to look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for abnormal areas and to take tissue samples for biopsy. (Read about "Endoscopy" "Biopsy")
If lung cancer is found, more tests will be done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This is called staging. A doctor needs to know the stage of the disease to plan treatment. The following stages are used for lung cancer, according to NCI:
Non-small cell lung cancer
Occult (hidden) stage
In the occult (hidden) stage, abnormal cells are found in sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs), but no tumor can be found in the lung by imaging or bronchoscopy (Read about "Endoscopy"), or the primary tumor is too small to be assessed.
Stage 0 (carcinoma in situ)
In stage 0 (carcinoma in situ), abnormal cells are found only in the innermost lining of the lung. The tumor has not grown through this lining.
In stage I, the cancer is in the lung only, with normal tissue around the tumor. Stage I is divided into stages IA and IB, based on the size of the tumor.
Stage II is divided into stage IIA and stage IIB, based on the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes. (Read about "The Lymph System")
In stage III, cancer cells may be found in lymph nodes on either side of the chest or the neck. The tumor may have invaded nearby organs, such as the heart, esophagus, or trachea.
In stage IV, cancer has spread to other parts of the body or to another lobe of the lungs.
Small cell lung cancer
In limited stage, cancer is found in one lung, the tissues between the lungs, and nearby lymph nodes only. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures found throughout the body. They filter substances in a fluid called lymph and help fight infection and disease. (Read about "The Lymph System")
In extensive stage, cancer has spread outside of the lung where it began or to other parts of the body.
ACS says treatment options include:
Someone with lung cancer may also develop a condition called hypercalcemia - too much calcium in the blood - which in turn can cause loss of appetite, nausea, thirst, fatigue, muscle weakness, restlessness and confusion. This can often require medication and rehydration. (Read about "Hypercalcemia") Lung cancer can increase the risk of pneumothorax, a condition that can cause the lung to collapse. (Read about "Pneumothorax") Pleurisy - a painful inflammation of the lining of the lungs and chest cavity - can also develop. (Read about "Pleurisy")
More Cancer Information:
For a list of individual types of cancer, see Cancer: What It Is
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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