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Lung Cancer

Lung cancer forms in tissues of the lung, usually in the cells lining air passages. The two main types are small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These types are diagnosed based on how the cells look under a microscope. Each type of lung cancer grows and spreads in different ways and is treated differently. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common, and generally grows and spreads more slowly. Non-small cell cancer is divided into three main types and are named for the type of cells in which the cancer develops. These three types are squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. Small cell lung cancer, sometimes referred to as oat cell cancer, is less common than non-small cell lung cancer. This cancer grows more quickly and is likely to spread to other organs of the body.

There are several causes of lung cancer, most related to the use of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars and pipes, environmental tobacco smoke, radon, asbestos, pollution, lung diseases, and personal history. Some of the common symptoms of lung cancer include cough that doesn’t go away and gets worse over time, constant chest pain, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, wheezing, hoarseness, repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis, swelling of the neck and face, loss of appetite or weight loss, and fatigue.

During your doctor appointment a family history of cancer will be taken along with, your medical history, smoking history, and exposure to environmental and occupational substances. A physical exam is performed as well as a chest x-ray and sputum cytology to detect lung cancer. To confirm the diagnosis the doctor must examine tissue from the lung and this is done through a biopsy. Tissue can be obtained through bronchoscopy, needle aspiration, thoracentesis, or thoracotomy. The tissue is then examined under a microscope by a pathologist for diagnosis.

If the diagnosis is cancer the doctor will next need to know the stage of the disease to help plan treatment. Tests used for staging include CT scan, MRI, radionuclide scanning, bone scan, and mediastinoscopy. Planning for treatment depends on the type of lung cancer non-small cell versus small cell, the size, location and extent of tumor, as well as general health of the patient. Treatment options available are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, photodynamic therapy, and clinical trials. Together you and your healthcare team will answer your questions and develop a treatment plan to best meet your needs.

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