August 1, 2014
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On the Road to Quitting

On the Road to Quitting

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Lung Cancer

(Pulmonary Cancer, Cancer of the Lung)

The Facts on Lung Cancer

More men and women, usually between the ages of 70 and 79, die of lung cancer than any other cancer.

The majority of lung cancers start in the bronchi, which are the airways that lead to the lungs. There are different types of lung cancer. The most common is called non-small cell lung cancer, which includes adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. The other type of lung cancer is small cell carcinoma (or oat cell carcinoma).

Each type grows at a different rate and responds differently to treatment. Cancer that has spread from other parts of the body to the lungs is also common.

Causes of Lung Cancer

Smoking is the main risk factor for lung cancer and is responsible for more than 80% of lung cancers. The longer you have smoked and the more you smoke, the more likely you are to get lung cancer. If you stop smoking before cancer cells develop, lung tissue that has been damaged by smoking will start to repair. An ex-smoker's risk will not be as low as that of a person who never smoked, but over time, their risk will go down. Cigar smoking and pipe smoking are almost as likely to cause lung cancer as cigarette smoking.

Even secondhand smoke, the kind inhaled from nearby smokers, can cause lung cancer. Nonsmokers who are married to smokers have a 30% greater risk of developing lung cancer than spouses of nonsmokers.

Living in an environment with high air pollution or working with radioactive minerals or asbestos can also increase the risk of cancer. Research has helped us to understand how these risk factors produce certain changes in the DNA of lung cells. These changes cause the cells to grow abnormally and form cancers.

DNA is the genetic material that carries the instructions for nearly everything our cells do. Some genes (parts of our DNA) contain instructions for controlling when cells grow and divide. The risk factors discussed earlier can trigger changes, also called mutations, in these genes that result in cancer. A risk for some types of cancer (e.g., breast, ovarian, colorectal, and several others) can be inherited from parents. However, inherited gene mutations are not thought to be a cause of very many lung cancers.





Symptoms and Complications of Lung Cancer

The first and most common symptom of lung cancer is a cough. If someone with chronic bronchitis develops lung cancer, the cough due to bronchitis will get worse. Cancer may grow into the blood vessels and cause blood to be coughed up in the phlegm. It may also grow into or press on the bronchi, making them narrower and causing the patient to wheeze when trying to breathe. Cancer can grow into the chest wall, causing chest pain. It can also cause pneumonia, with its symptoms of cough, fever, chest pain, and shortness of breath. People with advanced lung cancers lose their appetite, feel weak, and lose weight.

Lung cancer can spread to parts of the body near the lungs or to other parts of the body such as the liver, brain, and bones, causing pain. It can also grow into and block the veins that go from the upper part of the body to the heart. This syndrome, called superior vena cava syndrome, causes the blood in the veins of the face, neck, and upper chest to back up and the veins to swell.

Cancer can cause fluid to fill the sacs surrounding the heart or lung, making it very hard to breathe. Cancerous cells can also press on the lung, causing it to collapse, or on the spinal cord (backbone), causing pain or the loss of function of the nerves. Some cancers also release hormones that can affect the body's metabolism.

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