What Is Cancer?
What Causes Lung Cancer?
Types of Lung Cancer
Side Effects of Treatment
Nutrition for Cancer Patients
Support for Cancer Patients
The Promise of Cancer Research
Each year, more than 170,000 people in the United States learn that they have lung cancer*. This National Cancer Institute (NCI) booklet will give you some important information about this disease. It explains how lung cancer is diagnosed and treated, and it has information to help you deal with lung cancer if it affects you or someone you know.
Other NCI booklets are listed below. Our materials cannot answer every question you may have about lung cancer. They cannot take the place of talks with doctors, nurses, and other members of the health care team. We hope our information will help with those talks.
Researchers continue to look for better ways to diagnose and treat lung cancer, and our knowledge is growing. For up-to-date information, call the NCI-supported Cancer Information Service (CIS) toll free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237). The CIS is described in the Resources section of this guide.
*Words that may be new to readers are printed in italics. Definitions of these and other terms related to lung cancer begin on page 25. For some words, a "sounds-like" spelling is also given.
The lungs, a pair of cone-shaped organs made up of spongy, pinkish-gray tissue, are part of the respiratory system. They take up most of the space in the chest and are separated from each other by the mediastinum, an area that contains the heart, trachea (windpipe), esophagus, and many lymph nodes. The right lung has three sections, called lobes; it is a little larger than the left lung, which has two lobes.
When we breathe, air enters the body through the nose or the mouth. The air travels down the throat, through the larynx (voice box) and trachea, and into the lungs through tubes called main-stem bronchi. One main-stem bronchus leads to the right lung and one to the left lung. In the lungs, the main-stem bronchi divide into smaller bronchi and then into even smaller tubes called bronchioles. The bronchioles end in tiny air sacs called alveoli. The lungs take in oxygen, which cells need to live and carry out their normal functions. The lungs also get rid of carbon dioxide, a waste product of the body’s cells.
Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases. Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and keep dividing and forming more cells without control or order.
Like all the other organs of the body, the lungs are made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. This orderly process helps keep us healthy.
If cells divide when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. This mass of excess tissue, called a growth or tumor, can be benign or malignant.
Lung cancer often spreads to lymph nodes or other tissues in the chest (including the other lung). In many cases, lung cancer also spreads to other organs of the body, such as the bones, brain, or liver. Cancer that spreads is the same disease and has the same name as the original (primary) cancer. In other words, lung cancer that spreads to the brain (or another organ) is called metastatic lung cancer, even though the new tumor is in the brain (or another organ).
Most lung cancer is caused by cigarette smoking. Tobacco smoke contains many carcinogensharmful substances that damage cells. Over time, these cells can become cancerous. The more a person smokes, the higher the risk of getting cancer-not just lung cancer, but also cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, bladder, kidney, cervix, and pancreas.
It is clear that thousands of lives could be saved each year if people did not smoke. For this reason, NCI strongly encourages smokers to quit. The risk of lung cancer begins decreasing slowly as soon as a person quits smoking. The earlier the age at which a person quits, the closer a former smoker’s risk of lung cancer will approach the risk for a person who never smoked.
Although quitting early is best, smokers should know that it is never too late to benefit from quitting-even if they have lung cancer. Lung cancer patients who stop smoking are less likely to get a second lung cancer than are patients who continue to smoke.
Many programs are available to help people stop smoking. The Cancer Information Service, the American Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association can offer advice about quitting and can give you information about programs in your area. Information about these organization is found in the Resources section of this guide.
Although smoking is by far the major cause of lung cancer, it is not the only cause. Exposure to other people’s tobacco smoke (environmental tobacco smoke) increases the risk of lung cancer among nonsmokers. Scientists have found that nonsmokers who live or work with smokers have a higher lung cancer risk than nonsmokers who do not face this type of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
Exposure to certain carcinogens in the workplace, such as asbestos, also increases the risk of lung cancer. (The risk is especially high for workers who smoke.) People should carefully follow work and safety rules to reduce their exposure to workplace carcinogens.
Workers (especially smokers) who are exposed to high levels of radon, a radioactive gas, have an increased risk of developing lung cancer. High levels of radon are found in some types of underground mines (for example, underground uranium mines). Radon also can build up in some homes, but the levels in homes are generally much lower than in mines. Researchers are studying whether exposure to radon in the home can increase lung cancer risk. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can provide information about radon exposure and testing for radon in the home. See the Resources section of this guide.
Nearly all lung cancers are carcinomas. A carcinoma is a cancer that begins in the lining or covering tissues of an organ. Lung cancers are generally divided into two types: nonsmall cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. The tumor cells of each type of lung cancer grow and spread differently, and each type needs different treatment.
Nonsmall cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer. The three main kinds of nonsmall cell lung cancer are named for the type of cells in the tumor:
Small cell lung cancer is sometimes called oat cell cancer because the cancer cells may look like oats when viewed under a microscope. This type of lung cancer grows rapidly and quickly spreads to other organs.
Lung cancer usually does not cause Symptoms when it first develops. Doctors sometimes discover lung cancer in a person with no symptoms after the individual has a chest x-ray for another medical reason. Usually, however, lung cancer is found after the growing tumor causes symptoms to appear.
A cough is the most common symptom of lung cancer. It is likely to occur when a tumor irritates the lining of the airways or blocks the passage of air. The person may have a "smoker’s cough" that becomes worse. Another symptom is constant chest pain. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, wheezing, repeated bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis, coughing up blood, or hoarseness. A tumor that presses on large blood vessels near the lung can cause swelling of the neck and face. If the tumor presses on certain nerves near the lung, it can cause pain and weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand.
In addition, there may be symptoms that do not seem to be at all related to the lungs. Like all cancers, lung cancer can cause fatigue, loss of appetite, and loss of weight. If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it may cause headache, pain, or bone fractures.
Other symptoms can be caused by substances made by lung cancer cells. Doctors often refer to these symptoms as a paraneoplastic syndrome. For example, certain lung cancer cells produce a substance that causes a sharp drop in the level of salt (sodium) in the blood. A decrease in the sodium level can cause many symptoms, including confusion and sometimes even coma.
None of these symptoms is a sure sign of lung cancer. Only a doctor can tell whether a patient’s symptoms are caused by cancer or by another problem.
To find the cause of any of these symptoms, the doctor asks about the patient’s personal and family medical background as well as smoking and work history. The doctor also does a physical exam and usually orders x-rays and other tests.
In addition to chest x-rays, the doctor may order other pictures of areas inside the body. For example, a CT scan (also called a CAT scan) is a series of x-ray images put together by a computer. These detailed pictures can reveal that a tumor is in the lung, but they cannot show whether the tumor is benign or malignant.
The only sure way to know whether cancer is present is to obtain cells from the lungs so that a pathologist can examine them under a microscope. Sometimes, cancer cells can be found in the sputum, a thick fluid that the patient coughs up from deep in the airways. Also the doctor usually does a biopsy to remove a sample of cells from the lung. To do a biopsy, the doctor uses one of the procedures described below:
If the doctor can feel swollen lymph nodes or an enlarged liver, these areas may be biopsied to help with the diagnosis. The doctor also may biopsy other sites of the body where cancer is suspected.
|A patient who needs a biopsy may want to ask the doctor these questions:|
If lung cancer is diagnosed, the patient’s doctor needs to learn the stage, or extent, of the disease so that proper treatment can be given. Staging is a careful attempt to find out whether the cancer has spread and, if so, what parts of the body are affected.
To find out whether a patient’s lung cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the chest, the doctor removes a sample of tissue. In some patients, this can be done with a needle; in others, the doctor will need to perform surgery. Surgery to biopsy lymph nodes in the chest can often be done through a small incision near the breastbone. This procedure is called mediastinoscopy when the incision is above the breastbone and mediastinotomy when the incision is on one side of the breastbone. If a thoracotomy is planned, the doctor removes lymph nodes during the operation. Patients receive a general anesthetic for any of these operations.
Doctors may order CT scans to detect the spread of lung cancer to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Radionuclide scans of the bones, brain, or liver also may help doctors find out whether the cancer has spread. In these tests, a small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein. A machine then scans the body to measure the radiation and reveal abnormal areas.
In another technique, called MRI (for magnetic resonance imaging), a strong magnet linked to a computer is used to produce images. Doctors may order MRI to see whether lung cancer has spread to the brain or spinal cord.
The doctor develops a treatment plan to fit each patient’s needs. This plan depends on many factors, including the type of lung cancer, the size and location of the tumor, and the stage of the disease. The doctor also considers the patient’s age, medical history, and general health.
Most people with cancer want to learn all they can about their disease and their treatment choices so they can take an active part in decisions about their medical care. The doctor is the best person to answer questions about the extent of the cancer, how it can be treated, how successful the treatment is likely to be, and how much it is likely to cost. The patient also may want to talk with the doctor about taking part in a research study of new treatment methods. Such studies, called clinical trials, are designed to find ways to improve cancer treatment. More information about clinical trials is found in The Promise of Cancer Research section of this guide.
Many patients find it helps to make a list of questions before seeing the doctor. Taking notes during visits can make it easier to remember what the doctor says. Some patients also find that it helps to have a family member or friend with them-to take part in the discussion, to take notes, or just to listen.
|A patient may want to ask the doctor these questions before treatment begins:|
There is a lot to learn about cancer and its treatment. Patients should not feel that they need to understand everything at once. They will have many chances to ask the doctor to explain things that are not clear and to ask for more information.
Getting a Second Opinion
Treatment decisions for lung cancer are complex. Before starting treatment, the patient might want another doctor to review the diagnosis and the treatment plan. There are a number of ways to find another doctor for a second opinion:
Methods of Treatment
Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are the usual treatments for lung cancer. Surgery is done when it is likely that all of the tumor can be removed. Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is the use of high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing and dividing. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. A patient may have just one form of treatment or a combination, depending on his or her needs. Several specialists may work together as a team to provide treatment.
Three main types of surgery are used in lung cancer treatment. The choice depends on the size and location of the tumor, the extent of the cancer, the general health of the patient, and other factors. An operation to remove only a small part of the lung is called a segmental or wedge resection. When the surgeon removes an entire lobe of the lung, the procedure is a lobectomy. Pneumonectomy is the removal of an entire lung.
A patient may want to ask the doctor these questions before surgery:
Like surgery, radiation therapy is local treatment; it can affect cancer only in the treated area. The radiation, which comes from a large machine, is usually given 5 days a week for several weeks. The patient goes to the hospital or clinic each day to receive the treatments.
|A patient may want to ask the doctor these questions before radiation therapy:|
Chemotherapy is systemic treatment, meaning that the drugs flow through the bloodstream to nearly every part of the body. Most anticancer drugs are injected into a blood vessel or a muscle; some are given by mouth. Chemotherapy is most often given in cycles-a treatment period followed by a recovery period, then another treatment period, and so on.
Usually a patient has chemotherapy as an outpatient at the hospital, at the doctor’s office, or at home. However, depending on which drugs the doctor orders and on the patient’s health, the patient may need to stay in the hospital for a few days so that the drugs’ side effects can be watched.
|These are some questions a patient may want to ask the doctor before chemotherapy:|
Treating Nonsmall Cell Lung Cancer
Patients with nonsmall cell lung cancer may be treated in several ways. The choice of treatment depends mainly on the extent of the disease.
Surgery is the usual treatment for patients whose cancer is in only one lung or in one lung and the closest lymph nodes. Patients who cannot have surgery because of other medical problems and patients with large tumors often receive radiation therapy. Radiation therapy also is the usual treatment for patients whose cancer has spread within the chest-to more distant lymph nodes or other tissues. Some patients have both surgery and radiation therapy.
Doctors may use radiation therapy and chemotherapy to treat patients whose cancer has spread from the lung to other parts of the body. Although it is very hard to control lung cancer that has spread, treatment can often shrink the tumors. This can help relieve pain and other symptoms.
Treating Small Cell Lung Cancer
Small cell lung cancer spreads quickly. In most cases, cancer cells have already spread to distant parts of the body when the disease is diagnosed. To be sure that treatment affects all cancer cells, doctors generally use chemotherapy, even when the disease appears to be limited to the lung and nearby lymph nodes. Usually, chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer includes a combination of two or more anticancer drugs.
In many cases, treatment also includes radiation therapy-to shrink or destroy the primary tumor in the lung or tumors elsewhere in the body (such as in the brain). Some patients have radiation therapy to the brain even though no cancer is found there. This treatment, called prophylactic cranial irradiation or PCI, is given to prevent tumors from forming in the brain. Usually, PCI is reserved for patients whose lung tumor has responded well to treatment.
Surgery also can be part of the treatment plan for small cell lung cancer. This treatment is appropriate only for a small number of patients.
It is hard to limit the effects of cancer therapy so that only cancer cells are removed or destroyed. Because treatment also damages healthy cells and tissues, it often causes unpleasant side effects.
The side effects of cancer treatment vary. They depend mainly on the type and extent of the treatment. Also, each person reacts differently to treatment.
Doctors try to plan the patient’s therapy to keep side effects to a minimum.
Doctors and nurses can explain the side effects of cancer treatment and can suggest ways to deal with them. The National Cancer Institute booklets Radiation Therapy and You and Chemotherapy and You also have helpful information about cancer treatment and coping with side effects.
Surgery for lung cancer is a major operation. It may take several weeks or months for patients to regain their energy and strength. This recovery time differs from patient to patient. The doctor and nurse will explain what will happen and what they and the patient can do to make recovery easier.
Doctors can prescribe medicine to control pain after surgery. The doctor or nurse also may suggest other ways to reduce discomfort. Patients should feel free to ask what can be done to relieve their pain or discomfort.
After lung surgery, air and fluid tend to collect in the chest. The air and fluid are drained out through flexible tubes put in place during surgery. Patients also are helped to turn, cough, and breathe deeply. All of these procedures are important for recovery because they help expand the remaining lung tissue and get rid of excess air and fluid.
Generally, patients who have had lung surgery receive respiratory therapy-treatments and exercises to keep the lungs expanded and prevent fluid buildup. Patients may feel short of breath because they have less lung tissue to supply the body with oxygen. For this reason, they may have to limit their activities for some time. In most cases, the remaining lung tissue gradually expands somewhat, making it easier to breathe.
After surgery, the muscles of the chest and the arm on the affected side may become weak. Special exercises can help the patient regain strength in these muscles.
Patients often become very tired during radiation therapy, especially in the later weeks of treatment. Resting is important, but doctors usually advise their patients to try to stay as active as they can.
It also is common for the skin in the treated area to become red, dry, tender, and itchy. There may be permanent darkening or "bronzing" in the treated area. The skin should be exposed to the air but protected from the sun, and patients should avoid wearing clothes that rub or irritate the treated area. Good skin care is important at this time, and patients will be shown how to keep the area clean. They should not use any lotion or cream on the skin without the doctor’s advice.
During radiation therapy for lung cancer and for a short time afterward, patients may have a dry, sore throat, and it may be difficult to swallow. Many find it helpful to eat soft foods and drink extra liquids until these problems go away.
Radiation therapy to the lungs can cause certain permanent changes in lung tissues. These changes, called radiation fibrosis, tend to occur several months after the treatment is over. Fibrosis, which is similar to scarring, can interfere with the ability of the lung to supply the body with oxygen. Patients who have this problem may have to limit their activities.
The side effects of chemotherapy depend mainly on the drugs the patient is given. In addition, as with other types of treatment, side effects vary from person to person. Generally, anticancer drugs affect cells that divide rapidly. These include blood cells, which fight infection, help the blood to clot, or carry oxygen to all parts of the body. When blood cells are affected by anticancer drugs, patients are more likely to get infections, may bruise or bleed easily, and may have less energy. Cells in hair roots and cells that line the digestive tract also divide rapidly. When chemotherapy affects these cells, it can cause hair loss and other problems such as nausea and vomiting. Usually these side effects go away gradually during the recovery period or after treatment stops.
Some patients find it hard to eat well. They may lose their appetite. In addition, the common side effects of treatment, such as nausea, vomiting, or mouth sores, can make it hard to eat. For some patients, foods taste different. Also, people may not feel like eating when they are uncomfortable or tired.
Eating well means getting enough calories and protein to help prevent weight loss and regain strength. Patients who eat well during cancer treatment often feel better and have more energy. In addition, they may be better able to handle the side effects of treatment.
Doctors, nurses, and dietitians can offer advice for healthy eating during cancer treatment. Patients and their families also may want to read the National Cancer Institute booklet Eating Hints: Recipes and Tips For Better Nutrition During Cancer Treatment, which contains many useful suggestions.
Living with a serious disease is not easy. Cancer patients and those who care about them face many problems and challenges. Coping with these difficulties is easier when people have helpful information and support services. Several useful booklets, including Taking Time: Support for People With Cancer and the People Who Care About Them, are available from the Cancer Information Service.
Cancer patients may worry about holding jobs, caring for their families, or keeping up with daily activities. Worries about tests, treatments, hospital stays, and medical bills also are common. Doctors, nurses, and other members of the health care team can answer questions and help calm fears about treatment, working, or other activities. Also meeting with a social worker, counselor, or member of the clergy can be helpful to patients who want to talk about their feelings or discuss their concerns about the future or about personal relationships.
Friends and relatives, especially those who have had personal experience with cancer, can be very supportive. Also, many patients find it helps to discuss their concerns with others who are facing similar problems. Cancer patients often get together in support groups, where they can share what they have learned about coping with cancer and the effects of treatment. It is important to keep in mind, however, that each patient is different. Treatments and ways of dealing with cancer that work for one person may not be right for anothereven if they both have the same kind of cancer. It is always a good idea to discuss the advice of friends and family members with the doctor.
Often, a social worker at the hospital or clinic can suggest local and national groups that help with rehabilitation, emotional support, financial aid, transportation, or home care. The American Cancer Society is one such group. This nonprofit organization has many services for patients and their families. Local offices of the American Cancer Society are listed in the white pages of the telephone directory. More information the Amercan Cancer Society is available in the Resources section of this guide.
Information about other programs and services is available through the Cancer Information Service. The toll-free number is 1-800-4-CANCER.
The public library is a good place to find books and articles on living with cancer. Cancer patients and their families and friends also can find helpful suggestions in the booklets listed at the end of this guide.
Researchers at hospitals and medical Centers all across the country are studying lung cancer. They are trying to learn more about what causes this disease and how to prevent it. They also are looking for better ways to detect and treat it.
Cause and Prevention
Scientists are continuing to identify factors that may increase the risk for lung cancer. Recent research has shown that genetic factors play an important role in lung cancer risk. For example, certain genetic traits make some people very sensitive to carcinogens. Smokers with these traits may be more likely than other smokers to develop lung cancer.
Researchers also are studying ways to help people lower their risk of lung cancer. An important area of study is chemoprevention-the use of natural and laboratory-made substances to prevent or delay cancer. Vitamin A and substances like it may offer some protection against lung cancer. Other substances also are being studied. However, more research is needed, and some vitamins can be dangerous if taken in large doses. It is best to get a doctor’s advice before taking vitamins or other nutrients.
Currently, we know that the best way to prevent lung cancer is not to smoke. The National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and other organizations have programs designed to reduce the number of smokers. If these efforts are successful, far fewer people will develop and die of lung cancer each year.
The earlier cancer is detected, the more successful treatment is likely to be. However, lung cancer is difficult to diagnose at an early stage. For this reason, scientists are studying ways of checking for lung cancer in people who have no symptoms of the disease. This is called screening. The goal of screening is to detect lung cancer before symptoms appear so that it can be treated as early as possible. Whether successful screening methods for this disease can be developed is not yet known.
Because lung cancer is so hard to control, researchers are looking for more effective treatments. They also are exploring ways to reduce the side effects of treatment and improve the quality of patients’ lives. When laboratory research shows that a new method has promise, cancer patients can receive the treatment in clinical trials. These trials are designed to find out whether the new approach is both safe and effective and to answer scientific questions. Some clinical trials compare a new treatment with a standard approach. Patients who take part in clinical trials make an important contribution to medical science and may have the first chance to benefit from improved treatment methods.
Trials are under way to study new treatments for patients with all stages of lung cancer. Some trials involve treatments to shrink or destroy the primary tumor. In others, scientists are testing ways to prevent lung cancer from coming back in the chest or spreading to other parts of the body after the primary tumor has been treated. Still others involve treatments to slow or stop the spread of lung cancer.
Researchers are studying the timing of treatments and new ways to combine various types of treatment. They also are trying new anticancer drugs and drug combinations, new forms of radiation therapy, and drugs that make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation. Another method under study is photodynamic therapy. In this treatment, cancer cells are destroyed with a combination of laser light and light-sensitive drugs. Other types of laser therapy are being studied as a way to open the airways in patients whose tumors block the bronchi. Some researchers also are working with biological therapy. This type of treatment includes efforts to help the body’s immune system fight cancer more effectively or to protect the body from some of the side effects of treatment.
Patients with lung cancer may want to read a National Cancer Institute booklet called What Are Clinical Trials All About?, which explains some of the possible benefits and risks of treatment studies. Those who are interested in taking part in a trial should talk with their doctor.
One way to learn about clinical trials is through PDQ, a computerized resource developed by the National Cancer Institute. PDQ contains information about cancer treatment and about clinical trials in progress all over the country. The Cancer Information Service can provide PDQ information to doctors, patients, and the public.
Adenocarcinoma (AD-en-o-kar-si-NO-ma): A type of lung cancer in which the cells grow in patterns resembling cubes or columns.
Alveoli (al-VEE-o-lye): Tiny air sacs at the end of the bronchioles.
Anesthetic (an-es-THET-ik): Drugs or gases given to cause a loss of feeling. A local anesthetic makes an area of the body numb. A general anesthetic puts the patient to sleep.
Asbestos (as-BES-tus): A natural material that is made up of tiny fibers. If the fibers are inhaled, they can lodge in the lungs and lead to cancer.
Aspiration (as-per-AY-shun): Removal of a sample of fluid and cells through a needle.
Benign (be-NINE): Not cancerous; does not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.
Biological therapy (by-o-LOJ-i-kul): Treatment that uses the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. Also called immunotherapy.
Biopsy (BY-op-see): The removal of a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
Bronchi (BRON-kye): The large air tubes leading to the lungs. One tube is called a bronchus.
Bronchioles (BRON-kee-ols): The tiny branches of air tubes in the lungs.
Bronchitis (bron-KYE-tis): Inflammation (swelling and reddening) of the bronchi.
Bronchoscope (BRON-ko-skope): A thin, flexible instrument used to view the air passages of the lung.
Bronchoscopy (bron-KOS-ko-pee): A test that permits the doctor to see the breathing passages through a lighted tube.
Cancer: A term for diseases in which abnormal cells grow and divide without control. Cancer cells can invade nearby tissues and can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
Carcinogen (car-SIN-o-jin): Any agent that is known to cause cancer.
Carcinoma (kar-si-NO-ma): Cancer that begins in the tissues that line or cover an organ.
Chemoprevention (KEE-mo-pre-VEN-shun): The use of natural or laboratory-made substances to prevent cancer.
Chemotherapy (kee-mo-THER-a-pee): Treatment with anticancer drugs.
Clinical trials: Research studies that involve patients. Each study is designed to answer scientific questions and to find better ways to prevent or treat cancer.
CT scan: A series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. Also called CAT scan.
Digestive tract: The organs through which food passes. These are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, and rectum.
Environmental tobacco smoke: Smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette and smoke that is exhaled by smokers. Also called ETS or second-hand smoke. Inhaling ETS is called involuntary or passive smoking.
Epidermoid carcinoma (ep-i-DER-moyd): A type of lung cancer in which the cells are flat and look like fish scales. Also called squamous cell carcinoma.
Esophagus (e-SOF-a-gus): The muscular tube through which food passes from the mouth to the stomach.
Fluoroscopy (floor-OS-ko-pee): An x-ray procedure that makes it possible to see internal organs in motion.
Genetic (jen-ET-ik): Related to genes, structures found in every cell of the body. Each gene contains information that directs cell processes and controls the way an individual develops.
Large cell carcinomas: A group of lung cancers in which the cells are large and look abnormal.
Larynx (LAIR-inks): The valvelike structure at the top of the windpipe. It is used in breathing, swallowing, and talking. Also called the voice box.
Laser (LAY-zer): A powerful beam of light used in some types of surgery and in photodynamic therapy.
Lobe: A portion of the lung.
Lobectomy (lo-BEK-to-mee): An operation to remove an entire lobe of the lung.
Local treatment: Treatment that affects a tumor and the cells in the area close to it.
Lymph (limf): The almost colorless fluid that travels through the lymphatic system and carries cells that help fight infection.
Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped structures in the lymphatic system. The lymph nodes store special cells that can trap cancer cells or bacteria traveling through the body. Also called lymph glands.
Lymphatic system (lim-FAT-ik): The tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry cells that fight infection and disease. This system includes the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and vessels that carry lymph.
Malignant (ma-LIG-nant): Cancerous (see Cancer).
Mediastinoscopy (MEE-dee-a-stin-OS-ko-pee): A procedure in which the doctor inserts a tube into the chest to view the organs in the mediastinum. The tube is inserted through an incision above the breastbone.
Mediastinotomy (MEE-dee-a-stin-OT-o-mee): A procedure in which the doctor inserts a tube into the chest to view the organs in the mediastinum. The tube is inserted through an incision next to the breastbone.
Mediastinum (mee-dee-a-STY-num): The area between the lungs. The organs in this area include the heart and its large veins and arteries, the trachea, the esophagus, the bronchi, and lymph nodes.
Metastasis (meh-TAS-ta-sis): The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. Cells in the metastatic (secondary) tumor are like those in the original (primary) tumor.
MRI: A procedure in which a magnet linked to a computer is used to create pictures of areas inside the body. Also called magnetic resonance imaging.
Mucus: A thick fluid produced by the lining of some organs of the body.
Nonsmall cell lung cancer: A general classification for squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.
Oat cell cancer: A type of lung cancer in which the cells look like oats. Also called small cell lung cancer.
Oncologist (on-KOL-o-jist): A doctor who specializes in treating cancer.
Paraneoplastic syndrome (pair-a-nee-o-PLAS-tik): A group of symptoms caused by substances produced by certain cancer cells.
Pathologist (path-OL-o-jist): A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope.
Photodynamic therapy (FO-to-dye-NAM-ik): Treatment with laser light and substances that are sensitive to light. The laser light causes a chemical reaction that destroys cancer cells.
Pleura (PLOOR-a): The thin covering that protects and cushions the lungs. The pleura is made up of two layers of tissue that are separated by a small amount of fluid.
Pneumonectomy (noo-mo-NEK-to-mee): An operation to remove an entire lung.
Pneumonia (noo-MONE-ya): An infection that occurs when fluid and cells collect in the lung.
Prognosis (prog-NO-sis): The probable outcome or course of a disease; the chance of recovery.
Prophylactic cranial irradiation (pro-fi-LAK-tik KRAY-nee-ul ir-ray-dee-AY-shun): Radiation therapy to the head to prevent cancer from spreading to the brain.
Radiation fibrosis (ray-dee-AY-shun fye-BRO-sis): The formation of scar tissue as a result of radiation therapy to the lung.
Radiation therapy (ray-dee-AY-shun): Treatment with high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.
Radionuclide scans: Images of internal parts of the body. To produce these images, a small amount of radioactive material is swallowed or injected into the body. An instrument called a scanner then measures the radiation given off by certain organs.
Radon (RAY-don): A radioactive gas that is released by uranium, a substance found in soil and rock. When too much radon is breathed in, it can damage lung cells and lead to lung cancer.
Resection (ree-SEK-shun): Surgical removal of part of an organ.
Respiratory system (RES-pi-ra-tor-ee): The organs that are involved in breathing. These include the nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs.
Respiratory therapy (RES-pi-ra-tor-ee): Exercises and treatments that help patients recover lung function after surgery.
Side effects: Problems that occur when treatment affects healthy cells. Common side effects of cancer treatment are fatigue, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, and mouth sores.
Small cell lung cancer: A type of lung cancer in which the cells are small and round. Also called oat cell lung cancer.
Sputum (SPYOO-tum): Mucus from the lungs.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SKWAY-mus): A type of lung cancer in which the cells are flat and are arranged like fish scales. Also called epidermoid carcinoma.
Staging: Doing exams and tests to learn the extent of a cancer, especially whether it has spread from its original site to other parts of the body.
Surgery: An operation.
Systemic treatment (sis-TEM-ik): Treatment using substances that travel through the bloodstream, reaching and affecting cells all over the body.
Thoracentesis (thor-a-sen-TEE-sis): Removal of fluid in the pleura through a needle.
Thoracic (thor-ASS-ik): Pertaining to the chest.
Thoracotomy (thor-a-KOT-o-mee): An operation to open the chest.
Tissue (TISH-oo): A group or layer of cells that together perform a specific function.
Trachea (TRAY-kee-a): Windpipe.
Tumor: An abnormal mass of tissue.
Information about cancer is available from many sources, including the ones listed below. You also may wish to check for information at your local library or bookstore and from support groups in your community.
Cancer Information Service (CIS)
The Cancer Information Service, a program of the National Cancer Institute, is a nationwide telephone service for cancer patients and their families and friends, the public, and health care professionals. The staff can answer questions in English or Spanish and can send free National Cancer Institute booklets about cancer. They also know about local resources and services. One toll-free number, 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), connects callers all over the country with the office that serves their area.
American Cancer Society
1599 Clifton Road, N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30329
The American Cancer Society is a voluntary organization with a national office (at the above address) and local units all over the country. It supports research, conducts educational programs, sponsors support groups for cancer patients and for people who want to quit smoking, and offers many services to patients and their families. It provides free booklets on lung cancer and on caring for cancer patients at home. To request booklets or to obtain information about services and activities in local areas, call the Society’s toll-free number, 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345), or the number listed under American Cancer Society in the white pages of the telephone book.
American Lung Association
New York, NY 10019
The American Lung Association is a voluntary organization concerned with the prevention and treatment of lung diseases, including lung cancer. It supports many activities to make the public aware of the dangers of smoking. The Association offers free printed material on smoking and on lung cancer. It also sponsors programs to help people stop smoking. Local chapters are listed in the white pages of the telephone book.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Public Information Center
401 M Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20460
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the Federal agency responsible for keeping the environment safe. It supports research and sets regulations on air and water pollution, toxic substances, and radiation in the environment. It also provides free printed material on many topics, including radon, asbestos, and environmental tobacco smoke.
The National Cancer Institute booklets listed below are available free of charge by calling 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
Booklets About Cancer and Its Treatment
Booklets About Living With Cancer
This booklet was written and published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892.