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What is Lung Cancer?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lung cancer is a leading killer of people in many countries. In some cases, it can be treated successfully and doesn't result in fatality. In fact, it is most likely to respond well to treatment when it is diagnosed and treated early. Unfortunately, however, some forms of lung cancer are more aggressive or difficult to treat than others, and early diagnosis doesn't guarantee recovery.

The lungs are the organs used in breathing. When a person inhales, his lungs take in oxygen; when he exhales, they release carbon dioxide. These organs are pink and have a rubbery appearance on the outside but are spongy on the inside. There are many things that may contribute to the development of lung cancer, but cigarette smoke is among the most likely culprits.

Unfortunately, this type of cancer sometimes develops in people who have never smoked as well as those who haven't been exposed to second-hand smoke on a frequent basis. Other possible causes of this type of cancer include carcinogen exposure, especially when the cancer-causing agent is something that can be inhaled. Repeated radiation exposure and exposure to radon gas may also contribute to this cancer's development.

Often, a person who has lung cancer won't have symptoms early in the course of the disease. Typically, a person only notices symptoms after the cancer has been developing for some time. An individual with this disease may develop such symptoms as a persistent cough, bloody coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and hoarseness. Sometimes a person who already has a chronic cough notices a change in his symptoms, which may be a sign of this type of cancer. Additionally, an individual with this disease may also experience chest pains, unexplained headaches, or back pain.

The treatment used when a person has lung cancer typically depends on a range of factors, including the stage of cancer at the time of treatment, his overall health besides the cancer, and the type of lung cancer he has. A patient's preferences are usually considered as well. Typically, treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, drug therapy, and clinical trials that involve experimental treatment methods.

Sometimes, a patient decides that he does not want treatment. For example, he may decide that the side effects are too difficult to bear and opt to avoid treatments that might cure him. In other cases, a doctor may inform a patient that there is little-to-no hope for a cure. In such a case, a patient may opt for supportive care, which is used to keep him comfortable rather than curing his cancer.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Jan 21, 2014

@bythewell - To be honest, smoking isn't really the thing that causes the most cancer these days. I'd say it's more likely to be air pollution. It's something that a lot of people breathe in and out all day long, at home or at work, and in a lot of places it's only getting worse.

I think there is going to be a huge rise in lung cancer patients in the next few decades because of this.

Especially in those countries and cities where they have a big problem. I mean, they basically had to shut down whole cities in China for days during the Olympics there because the air pollution would have made it impossible to compete otherwise. Which was great in the short term, but it does point out that in the long term there are a lot of people who don't get that kind of treatment and have to suffer from the pollution all day, every day.

By bythewell — On Jan 20, 2014

@Iluviaporos - Unfortunately, second hand smoke is even worse than actual smoking in some ways, because it isn't drawn through a filter. I'm glad they now prohibit smoking in places like that in a lot of countries for the sake of the staff. It's a good thing for everyone else, too, as lung cancer treatment is expensive and the public is the one who has to shoulder the costs when a waitress, who didn't realize she was working in a high risk environment, ends up with cancer.

By lluviaporos — On Jan 19, 2014

Second hand smoke is such a dangerous thing. My mother worked in a bar for a lot of her 20's and it was well before smoking bans started to come into place. She has never smoked herself, but she's already starting to feel the consequences of breathing in the equivalent of several packs a night for a decade.

She hasn't got a lung cancer diagnosis, thank goodness, but she does have what the doctors call "small airwaves disease" which means she can have trouble breathing sometimes and has to use an inhaler to clear her lungs. I'm terrified that one day she'll take her cough to the doctor and they'll tell her that it's become more serious.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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