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Lung

Key Points About Lung Cancer

 

  1. Lung cancer happens when cells in the lung change (mutate). They grow uncontrollably and cluster together to form a tumor.
  2. Lung cells most often change because they are exposed to dangerous chemicals that we breathe.
  3. There are two main types of lung cancer; small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common.
    Lung cancer symptoms usually do not appear until cancer has spread to other parts of the body. At this point, it is harder to treat lung cancer.

What Is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is cancer that starts in the lungs. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells grow without order or control, destroying the healthy lung tissue around them. These types of tumors are called malignant tumors. When the cancer cells grow too fast, they prevent organs of the body from functioning properly.

Why Are Malignant Tumors Dangerous?

Malignant tumors are dangerous because they grow uncontrollably. When lung cancer cells grow too fast, they prevent your lungs from working properly. For example, if cancer affects the lungs, the tumor may grow to blocks a major airway so that part of the lung can’t breathe.
Cancerous tumors also can spread to different parts of the body. This may occur when a cancerous tumor sheds cells. These cells can then be carried to other parts of the body through the blood or the natural fluid around the lung tissue called lymph. The cancerous cells can begin to grow uncontrollably in the new location, causing problems in that part of your body. Sometimes other types of cancer spread to the lungs. Though the cancer is in your lungs, this type of tumor is not considered lung cancer.

What Are the Types of Lung Cancer?

There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). A third less common type of lung cancer is called carcinoid.

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

There are two different types of small cell lung cancer: small cell carcinoma (oat cell cancer) and mixed small cell/large cell cancer or combined small cell lung cancer. The types of small cell lung cancer are named for the kinds of cells found in the cancerous tissue and how the cells look when viewed under a microscope. Small cell lung cancer is almost always associated with cigarette smoking.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

Non-small cell lung cancer is more common. It makes up about 80 percent of lung cancer cases. This type of cancer usually grows and spreads to other parts of the body more slowly than small cell lung cancer does. There are three different types of non-small cell lung cancer:

  1. Adenocarcinoma: A form of non-small cell lung cancer often found in an outer area of the lung. It develops in the cells of epithelial tissues, which line the cavities and surfaces of the body and form glands.
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma: A form of non-small cell lung cancer usually found in the center of the lung next to an air tube (bronchus).
  3. Large cell carcinoma: A form of non-small cell lung cancer that can occur in any part of the lung and tends to grow and spread faster than adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.
    Each type of non-small cell lung cancer is different, but they are grouped together because they are treated similarly.

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Carcinoid

Lung carcinoid tumors are uncommon and tend to grow slower than other types of lung cancers. They are made up of special kinds of cells called neuroendocrine cells. They are usually classified as typical or atypical carcinoids. Carcinoids are very rare, slow-growing and most commonly treated with surgery.

 

Just as each person is unique, each type of lung cancer is different. It is important to know the type of lung cancer you have because it helps determine what lung cancer treatment options are available.

Types of lung cancer

What Causes Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer happens when cells in the lung mutate or change. These mutations can happen to anyone. However, various factors can cause or promote these mutations to happen. Often, when people breathe in dangerous and toxic substances, a permanent change in the DNA sequence of a gene can occur. This leads the cells to grow in an abnormal way and become cancerous. Even if you were exposed to these substances many years ago, you are still at a higher risk for lung cancer.

Non-small cell lung cancer treatment

If you’ve been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. It’s important that you think carefully about your choices. You will want to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects.

Which treatments are used for NSCLC?

Depending on the stage of cancer and other factors, treatment options for people with NSCLC can include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapies
  • Immunotherapy
  • Palliative treatments can also be used to help with symptoms.

***In many cases, more than one type of treatment is used.***

What types of doctors treat NSCLC?

You may have different types of doctors on your treatment team, depending on the stage of your cancer and your treatment options. These doctors could include:

A thoracic surgeon: a doctor who treats diseases of the lungs and chest with surgery
A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy
A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy
A pulmonologist: a doctor who specializes in medical treatment of diseases of the lungs

You might have many other specialists on your treatment team as well, including physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, respiratory therapists, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals.

Small cell lung cancer treatment

If you’ve been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer (SCLC), your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. It’s important that you think carefully about your choices. You will want to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects.

Which treatments are used for SCLC?

Depending on the stage of cancer and other factors, the main treatment options for people with SCLC include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Palliative treatments can also be used to help with symptoms.

Sometimes, more than one type of treatment is used. If you have SCLC, you will probably get chemotherapy if you are healthy enough. If you have limited stage disease, radiation therapy and – rarely – surgery may be options as well.

What types of doctors treat SCLC?

You may have different types of doctors on your treatment team, depending on the stage of your cancer and your treatment options. These doctors could include:

A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy
A pulmonologist: a doctor who specializes in medical treatment of diseases of the lungs
A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy
A thoracic surgeon: a doctor who treats diseases in the lungs and chest with surgery

You might have many other specialists on your treatment team as well, including physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, respiratory therapists, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals. 

How are lung carcinoid tumors treated?

After the lung carcinoid tumor is found and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. The main factors in selecting a treatment are the type of carcinoid, the size, and location of the tumor, whether it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs, and if you have any other serious medical conditions. 

Which treatments are used for lung carcinoid tumors?

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Other drug treatments
  • Radiation therapy
  • These treatments might be used alone or in different combinations, depending on the type and extent of the disease.

Selecting a treatment plan is an important decision, and you should take the time to think about all of your choices. Be sure to discuss all of your treatment options as well as their possible side effects with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs.

What types of doctors treat carcinoid tumors?

You may have different types of doctors on your treatment team, depending on the stage of your cancer and your treatment options. These doctors may include:

A thoracic surgeon: a doctor who treats diseases of the lungs and chest with surgery
A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy
A pulmonologist: a doctor who specializes in medical treatment of diseases of the lungs
A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy

Many other specialists might be part of your treatment team as well, including physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals.

Learn More! - Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer

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Some of the content contained in this section has been adapted from the following sources:
“Key Statistics for Lung Cancer.” Learn About Cancer. American Cancer Society, Inc. 16 July 2014. Web. 6 June 2016.
“Lung Cancer.” Cancer Facts and Information. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. 2016. Web. 6 June 2016.
“Lung Cancer.” Diseases and Conditions – Lung Cancers. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 2016. Web. 6 June 2016.