Lung Cancer

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is a cancer that generally starts in the cells that line the inside of the lungs. The 2 basic types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

What increases my risk for lung cancer?

Cigarette smoking increases your risk for lung cancer. The longer you smoke and the more cigarettes you smoke, the more likely you are to get this disease. Cigars, pipes, and breathing secondhand smoke also increase your risk. The following are other factors that may increase your risk:

  • Air pollution, such as diesel exhaust fumes

  • Exposure to radon gas

  • Family history of lung cancer

  • Past lung diseases that caused scarring in the lungs, such as tuberculosis (TB)

  • Working with chemicals, such as asbestos, uranium, arsenic, chromium, nickel, iron, or radioactive material

What are the signs and symptoms of lung cancer?

  • Chest pain that is not just in one area of your chest

  • A cough that will not go away, and gets worse over time

  • Coughing up lots of sputum, which may be bloody

  • Frequent colds or other respiratory infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis

  • Trouble breathing

  • Hoarseness or difficulty swallowing

  • Feeling more tired and weak than usual

  • Loss of appetite or weight loss without trying

  • Face or neck swelling

How is lung cancer diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine you and listen to your lungs. He will ask about other medical conditions you have. You may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may show an infection or be used to get information about your overall health.

  • A chest x-ray is a picture of your lungs and heart. It may show the location of the cancer or signs of infection.

  • A bronchoscopy is a test to look inside your airway and lungs. Caregivers insert a bronchoscope (tube with a light and magnifying glass on the end) into your mouth and down into your lungs.

  • A biopsy is a sample of lung tissue usually collected during a bronchoscopy. The sample will be sent to a lab and checked for abnormal cells.

  • A CT scan , or CAT scan, is a type of x-ray that takes pictures of your chest. The pictures may show where the cancer is located, and how big it is. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

  • An MRI takes pictures of your chest to show changes to organs or blood vessels. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is lung cancer treated?

Lung cancer treatment depends on the type, size, and location of the tumor. You may need more than one of the following:

  • Surgery is done on tumors that are small and have not spread to other parts of the body. If the tumor cannot be completely removed, surgery may be used to treat complications or to decrease your symptoms.

  • Radiation therapy uses x-rays or gamma rays to treat cancer. Radiation kills cancer cells and may stop the cancer from spreading.

  • Medicine is used to kill cancer cells. It may also be used to shrink lymph nodes that have cancer in them.

How can I care for myself before and during treatment?

  • Rest as needed. Return to activities slowly, and do more as you feel stronger. You may have trouble breathing when you are lying down. Use foam wedges or elevate the head of your bed. This may help you breathe easier while you are resting or sleeping. Use a device that will tilt your whole body, or bend your body at the waist. The device should not bend your body at the upper back or neck.

  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Drink extra liquids to prevent dehydration. You will need to drink extra liquids if you are vomiting or have diarrhea from cancer treatments.

  • Eat healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. It may be easier for you to eat several small meals a day rather than a few large meals.

  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Ask for information if you need help quitting. Avoid being around others who smoke.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • You have a fever.

  • You have blood in your mucus or spit.

  • You are vomiting and cannot keep food or liquids down.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You cannot think clearly.

  • You suddenly feel lightheaded or are short of breath.

  • Your lips or nails look blue or pale.

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

  • You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough, or you cough up blood.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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