What does lung cancer look like?


Lung cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the lungs. It is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide and is responsible for a significant number of cancer-related deaths. In this article, we will explore in detail what lung cancer looks like and the various subtopics related to it.

1. Types of lung cancer

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). NSCLC is the most common type, accounting for about 85% of all lung cancer cases, while SCLC makes up the remaining 15%. It is important to understand the differences between these two types, as they have distinct characteristics and treatment approaches.

1.1 Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

NSCLC can be further divided into three subtypes:

  • Adenocarcinoma: This is the most common subtype of NSCLC and usually develops in the outer parts of the lungs. It is more commonly found in non-smokers and women.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This subtype typically arises in the central areas of the lungs and is strongly associated with smoking.
  • Large cell carcinoma: This is a less common subtype of NSCLC and tends to grow and spread quickly.

1.2 Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

SCLC is less common but tends to be more aggressive and has a higher likelihood of spreading to other parts of the body. It is strongly associated with smoking and is often diagnosed at an advanced stage.

2. Symptoms of lung cancer

Lung cancer can present various symptoms, although some people may not experience any symptoms in the early stages. It is important to be aware of the following signs and consult a healthcare professional if they persist:

  • Chronic cough: A persistent cough that worsens over time.
  • Shortness of breath: Difficulty in breathing or catching your breath.
  • Chest pain: Pain in the chest, back, or shoulders that may worsen with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing.
  • Coughing up blood: Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum.
  • Hoarseness: A deepening or hoarse voice that persists.
  • Unexplained weight loss: Significant weight loss without an apparent cause.
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or weak, even with minimal exertion.
  • Recurrent respiratory infections: Frequent infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

How does lung cancer affect the body?

3. Causes and risk factors

The development of lung cancer is influenced by various factors, including:

  • Tobacco smoking: Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, responsible for approximately 85% of cases. The risk increases with the duration and intensity of smoking.
  • Secondhand smoke: Exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Radon exposure: Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, can accumulate in homes and increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as asbestos, arsenic, and diesel exhaust, can increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Family history: Having a close relative with lung cancer may slightly increase the risk.
  • Previous radiation therapy: Previous radiation therapy to the chest area for other medical conditions may increase the risk of developing lung cancer later in life.

4. Diagnosis of lung cancer

The diagnosis of lung cancer involves various tests and procedures:

4.1 Imaging tests

Imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans, can help identify abnormalities in the lungs and determine the extent of the cancer.

4.2 Biopsy

A biopsy is the definitive method to diagnose lung cancer. It involves taking a sample of lung tissue for examination under a microscope. The biopsy can be obtained through various techniques, including bronchoscopy, needle biopsy, or surgery.

4.3 Staging

Staging determines the extent and spread of the cancer. It helps in determining the appropriate treatment options. The most common staging system for lung cancer is the TNM system, which stands for tumor size, lymph node involvement, and metastasis.

5. Treatment options

The treatment of lung cancer depends on several factors, including the type and stage of the cancer, overall health, and individual preferences. The main treatment modalities include:

5.1 Surgery

Surgery involves removing the tumor and nearby lymph nodes. It is typically recommended for early-stage lung cancer when the tumor is localized and has not spread extensively.

5.2 Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation to kill cancer cells. It can be used as the primary treatment or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy.

5.3 Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves using drugs to kill cancer cells. It is often used in combination with surgery or radiation therapy to treat lung cancer.

5.4 Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy utilizes drugs that specifically target certain genetic mutations or proteins present in cancer cells. These therapies tend to have fewer side effects compared to traditional chemotherapy.

5.5 Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy works by stimulating the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. It has shown promising results in the treatment of advanced lung cancer.

6. Prognosis and survival rates

Lung cancer has a relatively low overall survival rate, mainly because it is often diagnosed at advanced stages. The prognosis and survival rates vary depending on several factors, including the stage, type, and overall health of the individual. Early detection and timely treatment significantly improve the chances of survival.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

FAQ 1: Can lung cancer be prevented?

While it is not always possible to prevent lung cancer, certain lifestyle changes can reduce the risk. Quitting smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke, and minimizing exposure to harmful chemicals can help lower the chances of developing lung cancer.

FAQ 2: What is the average age of lung cancer diagnosis?

The average age at the time of lung cancer diagnosis is around 70 years. However, it can occur at any age, and the risk increases with age.

FAQ 3: Are there any screening tests available for lung cancer?

Yes, low-dose CT scans are recommended for individuals at high risk of developing lung cancer, such as heavy smokers or those with a history of smoking. Regular screening can help detect lung cancer at an early stage when it is more treatable.

FAQ 4: Is lung cancer curable?

The curability of lung cancer depends on various factors, including the stage, type, and overall health of the individual. Early-stage lung cancer has a higher chance of being cured, while advanced-stage lung cancer may be more challenging to treat.

FAQ 5: Can non-smokers develop lung cancer?

Yes, non-smokers can develop lung cancer, although smoking remains the leading cause. Other risk factors, such as exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, or certain chemicals, can increase the risk even in non-smokers.

FAQ 6: How can I support a loved one with lung cancer?

Supporting a loved one with lung cancer involves providing emotional support, accompanying them to medical appointments, helping with daily tasks, and being a good listener. It is essential to respect their decisions and offer practical assistance when needed.


Lung cancer is a complex disease with various subtypes, symptoms, causes, and treatment options. Early detection and timely intervention play a crucial role in improving the prognosis. Understanding the different aspects of lung cancer can help individuals make informed decisions about prevention, screening, and treatment. Stay informed, prioritize your health, and consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice and guidance.

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