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Lung Cancer


What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer usually starts in the cells that line the inside of the lungs. The 2 basic types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer.

The Lungs

What increases my risk for lung cancer?

  • Cigarette smoking, or breathing secondhand smoke
  • Air pollution, such as diesel exhaust fumes
  • Exposure to radon gas
  • A 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
  • Wheezing or 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?

  • Blood tests may show an infection.
  • An x-ray, CT, or MRI may show the size and location of the cancer, or signs of infection. You may be given contrast liquid to help your lungs show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • A bronchoscopy is a test to look inside your airway and lungs. Healthcare providers 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.

How is lung cancer treated?

  • Surgery may be 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.

What can I do to manage my lung cancer?

  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • 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.
  • Return to activities slowly. 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.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise can help increase your energy level.
  • 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.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Alcohol can make breathing problems worse. Ask your healthcare provider if alcohol is safe for you to drink. You will need to limit the amount you drink if it is safe for you. Men should limit alcohol to 2 drinks per day. Women should limit alcohol to 1 drink per day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • 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.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded or are short of breath.
  • You cough up blood.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cannot think clearly.
  • Your lips or nails look blue or pale.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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Learn more about Lung Cancer

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.