Lung Cancer: Overview, Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More


Lung cancer is a severe health issue that affects many people worldwide. It’s a disease that can be very harmful, but there’s a way to find it early which can save lives. In this article, we’ll talk about why finding lung cancer early is so important, how doctors do it and who should think about getting screened. For more research you can also visit Wikipedia. 


It is a type of cancer that starts in the lungs. It happens when some cell in your lungs starts growing the wrong way and from a lump called a tumor. If we don’t catch it early, it can spread to other parts or your body and that makes it much harder to treat. It is the third most usual type of cancer and the leading reasons people die from cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society says it’s more often found in men, especially Black men who are about 12% more likely to get it compared to white men. Smoking is a big thing that makes you more likely to get it, but not everyone who gets lung cancer smokes.  

What are the Types of Lung Cancer?

The main types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). They differ in the size of the cells when viewed under a microscope.

Non-Small Cell (NSCLC):

Non-small cell is the most common type of it, accounting for around 85% of cases. There are sub types of non-small cells. The most common are;

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma 
  • Large cell carcinoma  

Small Cell:

Small cells usually begin in the middle of the lungs and spread more quickly than non-small. It accounts for around 13% of it.

What are the Stages of Lung Cancer?

Cancer is usually staged based on the size of the initial tumor, how far or deep into the surrounding tissue it goes, and whether it’s spread to lymph nodes or other organs. Each type of cancer has its own guidelines for staging. So each staging has several combinations of size and spread that can fall into that category. For instance the primary tumor in a stage III cancer could be smaller than in a stage II cancer. The general staging for lung cancer is;

Stages of NSCLC:

Doctors usually use the size of the tumor and how far it has spread to talk about the stages of NSCLC,

Stage 0:

Cancer is in the top lining of the lung or bronchus. It hasn’t spread to other parts of the lung or outside of the lung.

Stage I:

Cancer hasn’t spread outside the lung.

Stage II:

Cancer is larger than stage (I), has spread to lymph nodes inside the lung, or these more than one tumor in the same lobe of the lung.

Stage III:

Cancer is larger than stage II, has spread to nearby lymph nodes or structure or there’s more than one tumor in a different lobe of the same lung.

Stage IV:

Cancer has spread to the other lung, the fluid around the lung, the fluid around the heart or distant organs.

Stages of SCLC:

 These stages describe whether the cancer has spread inside or outside the lungs. SCLC has two main stages: limited and extensive. This is based on whether the area can be treated with a single radiation field.

Limited Stage:

Is confined to one lung and can sometimes be in the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest or above the collar bone on the same side.

Extensive Stage:

So it is widespread throughout one lung or has spread to the other lung, lymph nodes on the opposite side of the lung, or to other parts of the body.

What are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

Possible symptoms of it may include;

  • Shortness of breath
  • Changes to the voice such as hoarseness
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing or spitting up blood
  • A new cough that does not go away
  • Chest infection that lasts more than three weeks or keeping coming back, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Swelling in the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest
  • A cough that sticks around and might start to get worse over time 
  • Enlarged fingertips
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness

What are the Causes of Lung Cancer?

Smoking tobacco is the primary cause of this disease.. Around 80% of its deaths are linked to smoking. However, not all these cancer cases are related to smoking. There are several other factors that can contribute to the development of it, including:

  • Exposure to chemicals such as radon, diesel exhaust, or asbestos
  • Environmental factors, such as air pollution
  • Inherited or acquired genetic changes
  • Factors that can increase your risk of lung cancer include;
  • Smoking tobacco, alcohol
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Exposure to radon (radioactive gas)
  • Exposure to occupational substance such as arsenic, cadmium, nickel, diesel fumes and soot
  • HIV/AIDS infection
  • Family history
  • History of lung diseases such as lung fibrosis or emphysema
  • Older age

What are the Risk Factors of Lung Cancer?

While there are many factors that can increase your risk of it, smoking any kind of tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars or pipes is the biggest single risk factor. Other risk factors are include;

  • Being exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke
  • Being exposed to harmful substance like air pollution, radon, asbestos, uranium, diesel exhaust, silica, coal, products and others
  • Having previous radiation treatments to your chest, for instance for the breast cancer or lymphoma
  • Having a family history of lung cancer

What is the Diagnosis of Lung Cancer?

If someone shows symptoms that could suggest it or if screening detects anything unusual, a healthcare provider will likely suggest the following tests.

  • Imaging tests
  • Tissue sampling
  • Other samples

You may have a number of tests to determine if you have a lung cancer;

  • Chest X-rays
  • CT scans
  • PET scans
  • Lung function test
  • Biopsy
  • Sputum cytology

This information can help confirm if cancer is present and, if so, identify its type and stage.

What is the Treatment of Lung Cancer?

Treatment will depends on the type of the lung cancer you have, how advanced it is and your general health;

  • Staging
  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Thermal ablation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Palliative care

Treatment Team of Lung Cancer:

  • General practitioner
  • Respiratory physician
  • Chest surgeon
  • Oncologist
  • Medical oncologist
  • Radiation oncology
  • Cancer nurse
  • Dietitian
  • Speech pathologist
  • Other allied health professionals

What is the Prevention of Lung Cancer?

  • While it’s not possible to prevent all cases of it, there are steps individuals can take to lower their risk of developing the disease. These include:
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid secondhand smoke
  • Follow a balanced diet
  • Avoid exposure to radon

What to Know About Pneumonia and Lung Cancer?

Pneumonia and lung cancer happen in the lungs and have similar symptoms. Lung cancer can make someone more likely to get pneumonia because it weakens the immune system. Pneumonia is when the lungs get infected, making it hard to breathe and causing fluid buildup. Different viruses, bacteria, and fungi can cause pneumonia. Lung cancer starts when cells in the lung grow too much and form tumors. The American Cancer Society says it is the second most common type of cancer in the United States and the main reason people die from cancer. 

What is the Link?

Lungs cancer usually doesn’t show symptoms until it’s in its later stages. But pneumonia can happen as a complication of lung cancer. People with a weak immune system, especially those with lung cancer are more likely to get pneumonia. That’s why about 50-70% of folks with lung cancer end up getting serious lung infections like pneumonia while they’re sick. The strong treatments doctors use to fight it can really weaken the immune system. This means people might have a hard time stopping germs from getting into their body and fighting off infections, and medicines might not work as well. For these folks, infections are a big health risk. Infection is the second hand most common cause of death among people with it, after the tumors themselves. A weak immune system also makes pneumonia a big problem for very young and older adults. 

Differences in Symptoms:

Lung cancer doesn’t always show symptoms, but when it does, they usually show up in the later stages. Some symptoms of this cancer and pneumonia are similar. Pneumonia symptoms are usually more severe right away. It tends to develop slowly and doesn’t cause symptoms until it’s in the advanced stages. Symptoms that are the same for both include: 

  • Coughing 
  • Phlegm 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Stabbing chest pain 
  • Tiredness 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Wheezing 

Other symptoms include: 

  • Fever 
  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • Hot and cold flushes 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Joint and muscles aches 
  • Confusion
  • Coughing up blood 
  • Higher 
  • Persistent chest pain 

Doctors usually don’t rely on specific symptoms to tell the difference between lung cancer and pneumonia. Instead, they pay more attention to how quickly symptoms show up and when they start. 

Lung Cancer Symptoms:

Some symptoms that happen only in people with it include: 

  • Swelling in the face and neck 
  • Persistent shoulder or neck pain 
  • Trouble swallowing 
  • Hoarseness 
  • Changes in the shape of the fingertips 

Risk Factors:

Anyone can get pneumonia or lung cancer, but certain things can make it more likely. Lung cancer itself makes you more prone to getting pneumonia. And if you’re getting chemotherapy for this cancer,  it can also up your pneumonia risk by weakening your immune system. Smoking is a biggie when it comes to raising your chances of getting it, especially if you’ve been doing it for a long time. It also increases your risk of pneumonia. Other things that can make you more likely to get lung cancer include: 

  • Being around stuff that can cause cancer, like radon, asbestos, and uranium.
  • Having family members who’ve had lung cancer.
  • Getting radiation therapy on your chest before.
  • Breathing in dirty air, which some scientists think causes about 5% of its deaths worldwide.

Factors that can up your chances of getting pneumonia include: 

  • Having long term lung problems like COPD or cystic fibrosis.
  • Having chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease.
  • Having a weakened immune system, which can happen if you’re getting cancer treatment like chemo, have HIV/AIDS, had an organ transplant or have been taking steroids for a long time. 
  • Recently having a viral respiratory infection like the flu.
  • Being in the hospital, especially if you need help breathing with a machine.
  • Using drugs or drinking a lot, which can make you more likely to get a type of pneumonia called aspiration pneumonia.  

Diagnosis and Treatment:

When diagnosing pneumonia, a doctor might do a physical exam to check for swollen glands, abnormal breathing, or a high fever. They often confirm it with X-rays to see if there’s fluid in the lungs. Treatment varies depending on the types of pneumonia and how healthy the person is. Some can treat it at home with rest, fluids, and medicine. If pneumonia is severe they might need to stay in the hospital for IV fluids, antibiotics, and sometimes oxygen or help breathing. Diagnosing it is harder. A chest X-rays can give some clues, but usually, a biopsy is needed to be sure. Once it is confirmed more tests like a PET scan are done to see how fat it’s spread. A biopsy takes a small piece of tissue to look at under a microscope. Doctors often use a CT scan to guide the biopsy. Results from these tests tell the type of it, where it started, and how far it’s gone. Doctors use this information along with the person’s health, to plan treatment. It might include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation to cure control or ease symptoms depending on how bad the cancer is.


Does lung cancer screening save lives?

Research has shown that unlike chest x-rays yearly LDCT scans people at higher risk of lung cancer can save lives. For those people getting yearly LDCT scans before symptoms start helps lower the risk of dying from lung cancer.

Does cancer screening prevent death?

For certain cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopy, screening prevents some cancer related deaths, but we don’t have evidence that it reduces overall mortality.

Why do people avoid cancer screening?

Survey participants cite not knowing they need to be screened ( 39%) not having symptoms (37%)  and inability to afford the cost (31%) as top reasons for not being up to date. Additionally, 40% respondents said they have never discussed routine cancer screening with their health care provider.

Is cancer screening a good idea?

It’s also important to follow recommendations for cancer screenings tests. Screening tests are used to find the cancer in people who have no symptoms. Regular screening gives you the best chance of finding cancer early when it’s small and before it has spread.

What are the positives of screening?

Finding out you have health problems or an increased chance of a health problem can help people make better informed decisions about their health. Screening can reduce the chance of developing a condition or its complications.

What is the disadvantage of screening?

Screening can also give people abnormal results when they don’t have cancer. This can lead to unnecessary worry. It can also mean people have follow-up tests they don’t need, that may have side-effects.

Does screening improve survival?

Cancer screening helps find cancer before it spreads when it is easier to treat. Early detection may mean less treatment and less time spent recovering. The earlier a cancer is detected, the better your chance of survival.

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