Aspirus Regional Cancer Center

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. The disease is believed to develop over a period of many years and usually starts in the lining of the bronchi (the main airways of the lungs), but also can begin in other areas of the respiratory system.

Nearly all lung cancers are carcinomas, a cancer that begins in the lining or covering tissues of an organ. More than 95 percent of lung cancers belong to the group called bronchogenic carcinoma.

Some risk factors for lung cancer include:
  • Smoking – This is the leading cause of lung cancer, with more than 90 percent of lung cancers thought to be a result of smoking.

  • Secondhand smoke – Breathing the smoke of others.

  • Recurring inflammation – This can include tuberculosis and some types of pneumonia.

  • Asbestos exposure

  • Family history

  • Personal history of lung cancer

  • Vitamin A deficiency

  • Air pollution

Types of lung cancer

Lung cancers are generally divided into two types:

Nonsmall cell lung cancer

This is the most common type of lung cancer and is divided into three main kinds that are named for the type of cells in the tumor. They are:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma – Aslo called epidermoid carcinoma, this is the most common type of lung cancer in men. It often begins in the brochi and usually does not spread as quickly as other types of lung cancer.
  • Adencarcinoma – This type of lung cancer usually begins along the outer edges of the lungs and under the lining of the bronchi. It is the most common type of lung cancer in women and in people who have never smoked.
  • Large cell carcinoma – This group of cancers has large, abnormal-looking cells. These tumors usually begin along the outer edges of the lungs.
Small cell lung cancer

Sometimes called oat cell cancer because the cancer cells can look like oats when viewed under a microscope, this type of lung cancer grows rapidly and quickly spreads to other organs.

Symptoms of lung cancer

Lung cancer usually does not cause symptoms when it first develops, but they often become present after the tumor begins growing. Each individual may experience symptoms differently, but some of the most common symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Coughing
  • Constant chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Recurring lung infections, like pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Bloody or rust colored sputum (phlegm, mucus)
  • Hoarseness
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Weakness in the shoulder, arm or hand
  • Fever for unknown reason

How is lung cancer diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and a physical examination, there are several procedures that can be used to diagnose lung cancer. Click below to learn about some of the more common diagnostic procedures for lung cancer:

Chest x-ray
Other special x-rays
Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)
Sputum cytology
Needle biopsy
X-rays and scans of the brain, liver, bone, and adrenal glands

Treatment for lung cancer

Specific treatment of lung cancer will be determined by your physician and the treatment plan can vary for different patients.

Lung cancer may be treated with one or any combination of the following:

Radiation therapy
Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
Clinical trials (research studies)