Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer, and results in more deaths than breast, colorectal and prostate cancer combined. However, advances in treatment, especially in the field of radiation therapy, have helped improve the prognosis for lung cancer.
The most common cause of lung cancer is smoking However, there are other risk factors that can increase your chances of developing cancer later in life, including exposure to radon gas, asbestos, and silica; air pollution; family history of lung cancer; and past lung disease that leaves scarring.
The term “lung cancer” actually encompasses several different types of tumors. The staging of the disease depends largely on the size and location of the tumor, as well as whether the cancer has spread.
The most common type of lung cancer is non-small cell cancer, which accounts for about 85 percent of lung cancer cases. Non-small cell cancers include three types of tumors:
Stage I non-small cell lung cancer means that the cancer is contained to the lungs only. Stage II means that the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, while stage III means that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest. If the lymph nodes on just one side of the chest are affected, that is stage IIIA, while lymph nodes on both sides of the chest and above the collar bone warrant a Stage IIIB diagnosis. Finally, Stage IV lung cancer is the most advanced stage, in which the cancer has spread to both lungs, the fluid around the lungs, and/or other organs.
The second, less common, type of lung cancer is small-cell lung cancer. This type of tumor grows faster, and spreads sooner than the non-small cell cancer. Because it is more rare, the staging for this type of cancer is considered either “limited” or “extensive.” Limited indicates that the cancer is contained in one lung, and possibly nearby lymph nodes; while extensive means that the cancer has spread to both lungs and potentially throughout the body.
Doctors use surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, or a combination of the three, to treat both types of lung cancer.
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