Learn key facts about lung cancer

How much do you know about lung cancer? Whether you just want to learn about the symptoms, are worried about risk factors, received a formal diagnosis, or know someone with lung cancer, here are some important facts to know.

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Types of Lung Cancer

One common misunderstanding about lung cancer is that there’s only one type. In reality, there are several. The first group — non-small cell lung cancers —includes three distinct types:

  • Adenocarcinoma — a malignant tumor that forms in mucus-secreting glands
  • Squamous cell — an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin’s outermost layer that appears as a red patch, wart, raised growth, or open sore
  • Large cell — appears as abnormally large cells under a microscope

The second group — small cell lung cancer — is responsible for only 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer cases, according to the American Cancer Society.

Video: How Smoking Affects Your Lungs | UPMC

Lowering Your Risk of Lung Cancer

One of the key facts about lung cancer is that it’s highly preventable.

Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. In fact, nine out of 10 people who develop lung cancer either currently smoke or smoked in the past. Active smokers are 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers.

Kicking the habit substantially decreases your risk. A recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that quitting smoking reduces the risk of lung cancer by 39 percent within five years.

Lung Cancer Stages

Lung cancer first develops as a small nodule, usually on the outer edge of one lobe of a lung. This is considered stage I. When lung cancer is detected at this stage, the survival rate is around 85 percent.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict lung cancer’s rate of growth or spread. Sometimes one small nodule can spread quickly to other areas of the body. In stage II lung cancer, tumors start spreading to the lymph nodes but are not yet detected in distant organs. By stage III, the cancer may have reached nearby organs, such as the esophagus. Stage IV lung cancer affects other areas of the body, and the survival rate drops below 15 percent.

Early Detection of Lung Cancer

Surviving lung cancer relies heavily on early detection. Unfortunately, by the time symptoms present, lung cancer has usually reached its later stages and spread into the upper bronchial airways.

Common symptoms include:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Discomfort
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing up blood

However, low-dose CT screening can detect lung cancer early. If you currently smoke or have a 20 pack-year smoking history (even if you recently quit) and are between the ages of 50 and 77, ask your doctor about this screening test.

Developments in lung cancer research and treatment allow doctors to safely navigate into the peripheral areas where lung cancer usually originates.

To learn more about cancer screenings, advancements in diagnostic technology, and treatment options, visit the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. Call 412-647-2811 to make an appointment or schedule a lung cancer screening.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.