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Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and the second most common cancer among both men and women in the United States.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of lung cancer, but people who don’t smoke may get lung cancer too.  The most important thing you can do to lower your lung cancer risk is to quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.

What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is a cancer that starts in the lungs. Your lungs are 2 sponge-like organs found in your chest. Your right lung is divided into 3 sections, called lobes. Your left lung has 2 lobes. The left lung is smaller because the heart takes up more room on that side of the body. The main functions of your lungs are to take in oxygen and to get rid of carbon dioxide, and this happens through breathing.

Types of Lung Cancer
There are 2 main types of lung cancer:

Other Types of Lung Cancer

Risk Factors for Lung Cancer
Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may not have had any known risk factors. Several risk factors can make you more likely to develop lung cancer.

Can Lung Cancer Be Found Early?
Usually symptoms of lung cancer do not appear until the disease is already in an advanced, non-curable stage.

Even when symptoms of lung cancer do appear, many people may mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or long-term effects from smoking. This may delay the diagnosis.

Some lung cancers are diagnosed early because they are found by accident as a result of tests for other medical conditions. For example, lung cancer may be found by imaging tests (such as a chest x-ray or chest CT scan), bronchoscopy (viewing the inside of lung airways through a flexible lighted tube), or sputum exam (microscopic examination of cells in coughed up phlegm) done for other reasons in patients with heart disease, pneumonia, or other lung conditions. A small portion of these patients do very well and may be cured of lung cancer.

Screening is the use of tests or exams to detect a disease in people without symptoms of that disease. Doctors have looked for many years for a test to find lung cancer early and help people live longer, but only in recent years has a study shown that a lung cancer screening test can help lower the risk of dying from this disease.

Screening Guidelines
Patients who meet all of the following criteria may be candidates for lung cancer screening:

Screening should only be done at facilities that have the right type of CT scan and that have a great deal of experience in lung cancer screening. The facility should also have a team of specialists that can provide the appropriate care and follow-up of patients with abnormal results on the scans.

Sources: American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)