Understanding Lung Cancer | Understanding Your Lungs | Types | Symptoms | Diagnosing | Stages | Causes | Resources
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center offers comprehensive treatment from a team of experts who specialize in lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the result of damage to normal cells in the lung. Cancer that begins somewhere else in the body may spread to the lungs; this is different from lung cancer.
To understand lung cancer, it helps to know more about your lungs and lymph system.
Your lungs are sponge-like organs that work with your ribs, chest muscles and diaphragm muscle to move air in and out of your body, bringing in oxygen when you inhale and getting rid of carbon dioxide when you exhale.
Each lung has sections called lobes.
Around your lungs are lymphatic vessels, small tubes that carry lymph away from your lungs.
Non-small cell lung cancer is classified into two main subtypes.
Small cell lung cancer occurs almost exclusively in heavy smokers. It usually starts in the bronchi, grows very quickly and creates large tumors. Most small cell lung cancers spread to sites outside the lung, such as the bones, liver or brain, before they are discovered.
Mesothelioma is an uncommon type of cancer related to the lungs. It arises from the pleura, the tissue that covers your lungs and lines your chest cavity, and is often linked to asbestos exposure.
Treating lung cancer used to be simpler — because there simply were not as many treatments available. Today, people facing this disease have more options, and significantly higher survival rates, than they did even a few years ago.
Lung cancer symptoms may take years to develop, and often there are no symptoms at all until the later stages of the disease.
The early symptoms of lung cancer are often mistaken for less serious problems. Or, in people who smoke, they are thought to be related to tobacco use alone.
Conditions other than cancer may cause these symptoms. If you have any symptoms that concern you or if you are at high risk for developing lung cancer, talk to your physician.
If you are or were a smoker and suspect you might have or might develop lung cancer, learn more about Fred Hutch's low-dose CT screening program.
Fred Hutch’s Lung Cancer Early Detection & Prevention Clinic is your gateway to getting a diagnosis if you’re suspected of having lung cancer or to reducing your risk if you’re lung cancer–free.
Sometimes lung cancer is detected before symptoms appear through a chest X-ray or other exam ordered for reasons not related to the cancer.
Your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an endobronchial ultrasound, a chest X-ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan to help diagnose lung cancer.
To confirm the diagnosis, you will need a biopsy. This involves taking a sample of tissue and looking at the cells under a microscope. A number of methods can be used.
If a biopsy confirms that cancer is present, your physician will determine the type of cancer and the stage — how far the cancer has spread within your lungs or to other parts of your body.
Accurate staging is probably the most important part of lung cancer treatment because it helps your doctors choose the most appropriate therapy for you (and can help you avoid ineffective therapy).
The Fred Hutch lung cancer team has a methodical and scientific approach to lung cancer staging that allows many patients to have more aggressive therapy with a goal of curing their disease, even when this may not have seemed possible based on initial X-ray evaluations.
X-rays can be misleading, so it is important to verify any X-ray findings that suggest you have more advanced cancer. Your cancer could be less advanced and your treatment options could be different than X-rays suggest.
To determine the stage of your disease:
Non-small cell lung cancer is assigned an overall stage of I, II, III or IV, with stage I being the least advanced and stage IV being the most advanced. The stages may be further subdivided based on more precise features of the cancer.
Small cell lung cancer is staged as limited or extensive.
More than 85 percent of lung cancers are related to tobacco, either by smoking or breathing secondhand smoke, and about half of all continuing smokers will die from a disease caused by smoking.
Get help to quit smoking, and learn about early detection at Fred Hutch, including lung cancer screening for smokers and ex-smokers.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of them cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) that damage the cells in the lungs. At first your body may be able to repair the damage caused by the carcinogens, but with repeated exposure, the damage may progress to cancer.
The risk of lung cancer increases with the length of time and number of cigarettes you’ve smoked. Lung cancer occurs most frequently among people over 50 who have smoked for many years.
Heavy smokers are at the highest risk for lung cancer, but former smokers are also at risk. Nearly 60 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed in people who have already stopped smoking.
About 18 percent of people who develop lung cancer are lifetime never-smokers. As with many cancers, the cause is unknown. Secondhand smoke is thought to be responsible for about a quarter of cases of lung cancer in never-smokers.
Other risk factors for lung cancer include:
Tobacco use combined with one of these other risk factors can increase your lung cancer risk exponentially.
Lung cancer is the most common cancer after skin cancer, and it is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States. Each year, more Americans die of lung cancer than of breast, colorectal, ovarian and prostate cancers combined.
About 222,000 new lung cancer cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
There are many resources online for learning about your disease. Health educators at the Fred Hutch Patient and Family Resource Center have compiled a list of trusted sources to help you get started.
Whether you are newly diagnosed, going through treatment or know someone with cancer, our staff are available to tailor personalized resources and answer questions about support options in the community.
American Cancer Society (ACS): Overview of Lung Cancer
If you have lung cancer or are a caregiver for someone who does, knowing what to expect can be helpful. Here you can find out all about lung cancer in adults, including risk factors, symptoms and how they are found and treated.
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO): Guide to Lung Cancer - Non-Small Cell
This is Cancer.Net's Guide to non-small cell lung cancer. Here you can learn more about lung cancer, treatment, the latest research and clinical trials.
ASCO Answers: Lung Cancer
ASCO Answers is a collection of oncologist-approved patient education materials developed by ASCO for people with cancer and their caregivers. Here you can find illustrations and information on lung cancer.
Guide to Lung Cancer-Small Cell from American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)
This is Cancer.Net's Guide to small cell lung cancer. Here you can learn more about liver cancer, treatment, the latest research and clinical trials.
CancerCare Treatment Update: Lung Cancer
The CancerCare Connect® Booklet Series offers up-to-date, easy-to-read information on the latest treatments, managing side effects and coping with cancer.
CancerCare: Lung Cancer General Information and Support
CancerCare provides free, professional support services for people affected by lung cancer, as well as lung cancer treatment information and additional resources, including financial and co-pay assistance.
National Cancer Institute (NCI): Lung Cancer-Patient Version
The NCI is the federal government's principal agency for cancer research and training. Here you can find more information about lung cancer treatment, research and coping with cancer.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Guidelines for Patients: Lung Cancer Early and Locally Advanced
This step-by-step guide to the latest advances in cancer care features questions to ask your physician, patient-friendly illustrations and glossaries of terms and acronyms.
The American Lung Association website offers information and publications on ways to ways to promote lung health and prevent or manage lung diseases.
The American Lung Association's Better Breathers Club program has connected people living with lung disease to education support and each other in communities around the country for over 40 years.
CancerLifeline is hosting educational speakers and open discussions in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Group is open to those diagnosed with lung cancer and their family and friends.
Get support and learn more about EGFR positive lung cancer.
Living Tobacco-Free Services are available to Fred Hutch patients on the phone or in-person. During the session patients meet with a tobacco-cessation counselor and discuss medications to manage nicotine-withdrawal symptoms, stress management, creating new habits, and educational resources and materials.
GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer was founded by patients and survivors. It offers information about risk/early detection, lung cancer, treatment, resources and support.
LungCancer.org is a service of CancerCare, a non-profit organization providing free, professional support — including counseling, support groups, financial assistance, educational workshops and publications — to anyone coping with lung cancer.
Learn more about getting screened for lung cancer, find resources and support if you have lung cancer, or learn how to start volunteering to raise awareness about lung cancer.
The White Ribbon Project promotes awareness about lung cancer by changing public perception of the disease.