Lung Cancer Symptoms, Causes, Stages and Treatment

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Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in the United States, in both men and women, and it is the second most common cause of cancer. This is a detailed overview of lung cancer.  Lung cancer symptoms, causes, stages, and treatment.


Lung Cancer Risk Factors

The most important risk factor for developing lung cancer is smoking cigarettes. Walt Disney, the creator of Mickey Mouse and all things Disney, was a smoker and he developed lung cancer. However, you can be a nonsmoker and still get lung cancer. Diana Reeve was an actor, a singer and the wife of Superman, Christopher Reeve. She developed lung cancer and she had never smoked a cigarette in her life.


lung cancer symptoms

What Is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer occurs when lung cells change or mutate and they begin growing and dividing uncontrollably.  As these mutated cancer cells stack up on one another, they form a mass or a tumor.  If cancer cells from this tumor break off and get into the bloodstream, you can develop metastatic lung cancer.


Types Of Lung Cancer

There are two main types of lung cancer, small cell lung cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer makes up about 85% of the lung cancers and there are four types of non-small cell lung cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Carcinoid tumor
  • Large cell lung cancer


What Causes Lung Cancer?

Smoking tobacco is the leading cause of developing lung cancer. In fact, 90% of people with lung cancer are smokers or former smokers. Secondhand smoke also puts you at risk for developing lung cancer.  If you are living with a smoker, you have an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

And for you parents who smoke cigarettes in front of your children, yes, you are increasing your child's risk of developing lung cancer. Other causes include environmental exposures.  If you have been exposed to things like asbestos, radon, certain metals like arsenic and chromium, this can increase your chances of developing lung cancer.  Also, if you've had a type of cancer in the past and you've received radiation therapy, that radiation exposure can also increase your risk for developing lung cancer.


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Symptoms Of Lung Cancer

The symptoms of lung cancer can be vast. They can be caused by direct pressure of cancer on organs or organ systems. They can be caused by lung cancer actually invading blood vessels or compressing nerves.

The symptoms can also be caused by paraneoplastic syndromes or you can get symptoms from organs, even when cancer itself has not directly spread to those organs.


Lung Cancer Cough Symptoms

One common symptom of lung cancer is a cough.  In fact, it occurs in over 75% of patients with lung cancer. Hemoptysis is another symptom. Hemoptysis is the coughing up of blood and it often occurs when lung cancer has invaded blood vessels.

Shortness Of Breath

Another symptom of lung cancer is shortness of breath.

Chest Pain

Hoarse Voice

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

The superior vena cava syndrome can also lead to symptoms in lung cancer. The superior vena cava syndrome or SVC syndrome occurs when the lung cancer causes an obstruction or blockage to the flow of the superior vena cava or that very large vessel returning blood to the heart.

Symptoms include facial swelling, neck swelling, shortness of breath, and there are a number of symptoms that can be caused by these paraneoplastic syndromes. Symptoms can include high blood pressure, weight gain, developing a round or a moon face, weakness, bone pain,  and even kidney stones, depending on the paraneoplastic syndrome you may develop.


Lung Cancer Treatment

The treatment for lung cancer really depends on the staging of lung cancer and the type of lung cancer. For small cell lung cancer, by the time the small cell lung cancer is discovered, it has already spread in over 60% of cases, and in that case, there will be a role for chemotherapy and/or radiation.


stages of lung cancer


Stages Of Lung Cancer

In general, there are four stages of lung cancer.


Stage 1 Lung Cancer

If the lung cancer is at stage one, that means that there has been a single lesion found in one lobe of a lung and there are no signs of spreading to any lymph nodes, to any other area. In that case, the treatment can be surgical.  Resection or removal of the affected lobe of the lung.


Stage 2 Lung Cancer

In stage two lung cancer, there is a single spot, which has been found in one lobe of the lung, but there's also signs of some local spread to a local lymph node. In this case, there's also a role for surgery, resection of that lobe, but there may also be a role for chemotherapy.


Stage 3 Lung Cancer

In stage three lung cancer, there is a spot in a lobe of a lung, there are also signs of local invasion in lymph nodes, but in stage three, cancer has actually spread outside of the lobe and lymph nodes have been found to have lung cancer in the mediastinum, or out in the center of the chest, and in that subcarinal area, or that area that's right underneath the windpipe, or the trachea. In this case, when cancer has already spread into the middle of the chest, the mediastinum, surgery has a limited role or no role and chemotherapy is a treatment for stage three lung cancer.


Stage 4 Lung Cancer

In stage four lung cancer, cancer has spread outside of the lungs and outside of the chest, so beyond having a spot of lung cancer in the lungs, it has spread beyond being local.  It has spread beyond the mediastinum or the chest and it is now outside of the lungs and in the system, it is metastatic. Some popular places for lung cancer to metastasize in stage four include the bones, the liver, and the brain. In stage four, again, there's really no role for surgery.  Just like in stage three, chemotherapy and radiation will be the treatments of choice.



This ends my overview of lung cancer symptoms, causes, stages, and treatment. Make sure you prioritize yourself, you take care of you and do your best to live your healthiest, happiest life. If you have more questions about lung cancer please leave a comment below.


Dr. Frita - Frita McRae Fisher, M.D.
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