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Lung Cancers

There are two basic types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). The type of lung cancer is important because it affects how the disease is treated. Most cases of lung cancer are NSCLC, which generally grows more slowly than SCLC.

Both lung cancer types can be very difficult to treat. By the time patients report symptoms, the disease has often spread to other parts of the body. Common symptoms of lung cancer include persistent cough (often called “smoker’s cough”), breathing problems, blood in sputum, pneumonia and respiratory infections, chest pain, weight loss and fatigue.

When lung cancer is suspected, diagnostic tests such as ultrasound, MRI, CAT scans and PET scans can be useful to assess how far tumors have spread. Bone scans may be performed to determine metastasis to the bones. Needle biopsy is performed to obtain a sample of the cells for microscopic examination.

If the cancer is detected early and remains in the lung, surgery may be an option. For lung cancer that has spread, however, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are standard treatment methods. Small cell lung cancer, which metastasizes quickly, can also be treated with brain radiation to prevent spreading of the cancer to the brain.

Because smoking is such a strong risk factor for developing lung cancer, quitting smoking can greatly reduce the likelihood of lung cancer. The incidence and death rates for lung cancer have declined in the last several years, in part due to the decreased trend in cigarette smoking.

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