Lung cancer is generally described as small cell or non-small cell type. Majority of lung cancers are described as non-small cell and almost always occur in those who smoke. The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 85% of all lung cancer is caused by cigarette smoking or having smoked in the past. The risk for lung cancer increases by the amount someone smokes and how many years they have smoked.
Unfortunately, Lung cancer symptoms generally do not appear until the disease has progressed to later stages making it harder to treat. Some estimates state up to 25% of individuals diagnosed with early lung cancer find the cancer incidentally. These patients have no symptoms and the cancer is found on chest x-rays and CT scans for routine purposes or unrelated concerns. Those with symptoms may experience persistent cough, coughing up blood, hoarseness, recurring lung infection, unexplained weight loss, and weakness.
Early diagnosis is important for treatment of lung cancer. Radiologic imaging such as a chest x-ray, CT scan of your chest and PET (positive-emission topography) scans may be used to identify the location of the cancer and determine spread of the disease outside the lungs. Early detection for those at risk, such as CT Lung Screening, is one tool to identify cancer early. Once an abnormal finding is found, a biopsy or tissue sample of the tumor is needed to determine what type of lung cancer is present. This can be obtained by a lung biopsy during bronchoscopy, Thoracentesis (removal of abnormal fluid collection in the lung), or needle biopsy.
Once your cancer type is identified, additional testing may be needed to determine the stage of your cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer stages are described as follows:
- Stage I: The cancer is confined to one part of the lung. The cancer has not spread to other areas of your body.
- Stage II: The cancer is in one lung and lymph nodes in the same lobe of the lung.
- Stage III: The cancer has spread to lymph nodes along the same side of the chest as the cancer or has spread to the lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest of the cancer.
- Stage IV: The cancer is found in the other lung and/or other organs within your body and lymph nodes beyond your lungs.
Treatment of lung cancer is dependent upon your current health condition and stage of disease. Those individuals with early disease may be able to have the cancer surgically removed and essentially cure the condition. Those with more advanced cancer may be candidates for chemotherapy, radiation or specific targeted therapy based on the specific features of the cancer. Your healthcare team will provide you with information and recommendations for treatment based on your specific health situation.