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Lung Cancer: Causes, types, symptoms, and treatment

Dr. Rashmi ByakodiJan 17, 2024

According to the World Health Organisation, cancer caused nearly 10 million deaths in 2020. And of which, Lung Cancer tops the list with the maximum number of deaths (around 1.8 million) worldwide. Usually, Lung Cancer does not show any symptoms at the earlier stages until it has spread to other parts of the body. However, early detection can help with effective treatment and better possible outcomes. This article illustrates what Lung Cancer is, the types and causes of Lung Cancer how to diagnose the relevant symptoms what treatment options are available, and the possible preventive measures.




What is Lung Cancer?

Lungs Cancer is an uncontrollable growth of cells in the tissues of the lungs. The cells grow into a tumour and may aggravate different parts of the body. Primarily, Lung Cancer shows no early symptoms. If it gets detected early, then proper treatment is possible. But unfortunately, Lung Cancer is incurable. It tends to affect the linings of bronchi and bronchioles, which causes trouble breathing.

What causes Lung Cancer?

Although anyone can get Lung Cancer, the primary cause of Lung Cancer is smoking. Nearly 90% of Lung Cancers are the result of tobacco use. Tobacco smoke contains around 7000 types of chemical compounds, out of which almost 70 chemicals are carcinogenic.

Experts believe that secondhand smoking can also lead to the development of lung cancer. Even though Lung Cancer is primarily linked with tobacco smoking, it can affect people who have never smoked or been exposed to smoke. It is observed that genetics also play an essential role in this regard. 

Other causes of Lung Cancer may include the following. 

  • Air Pollution

  • Exposure to asbestos fibres

  • A high amount of arsenic in drinking water

  • Exposure to radon gas

  • Exposure to carcinogenic chemicals such as chromium, cadmium, nickel chromate, uranium, beryllium, chloromethyl ethers, and gasoline

Types of Lung Cancer

There are two major types of Lung Cancer: small cell and non-small cell. Each type grows and spreads in different ways.

1. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

Around 80 to 85% of Lung Cancers are of NSCLC type, making it the most common type of Lung Cancer. However, this type of cancer grows and spreads slower than Small-cell Lung Cancer. NSCLC is divided into three sub-types.

  1. Adenocarcinoma: This often occurs near the edge of the lungs. It may vary in both growth rate and size. Smokers and people who don't smoke, women, and younger people are all vulnerable to this type of cancer. Fortunately, it can be detected early enough before it has spread to other tissues and responds well to treatment.

  2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma: It typically begins in air passages of the lungs. Usually,  Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the lungs is found in the larger bronchi that connect the windpipe or trachea to the lung. It is common in smokers.

  3. Large Cell Carcinoma: Any part of the lungs can be affected by this type of cancer. It is named so because the cells of this cancer look large and abnormal. They grow and spread much quicker, making them difficult to treat. 

2. Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

Accounting for around 15 to 20% of all Lung Cancers, SCLC is less common. This cancer tends to proliferate and metastasize to other body parts and is likely to be at the advanced stage when diagnosed. Therefore, the treatment of this cancer becomes difficult.


It is a type of Lung Cancer affecting the protective membrane around most of your body's internal organs. It is an aggressive, rare, and deadly form of Lung Cancer that typically occurs due to asbestos exposure. According to the American Cancer Society, around 3000 cases are diagnosed yearly with mesothelioma. 

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

It is difficult to tell if you have Lung Cancer until the disease reaches an advanced stage. However, some people do have some early signs, as listed below. 

  • Persistent coughing that gets worse gradually

  • Chest pain that intensifies with coughing or laughing

  • Blood in the sputum while coughing

  • Hoarseness in voice

  • Breathlessness or gasping

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms of metastasized Lung Cancer may look like this. 

  • Lumps in the neckline or collarbone

  • Bone pain

  • Numbness, headache, and dizziness 

  • Confusion and balancing issues

  • Muscle weakness

  • Jaundice

  • Seizures

If the tumour is placed at the upper part of the lungs, it may affect the facial nerves leading to these symptoms. 

  • One eyelid drooping

  • Reduced perspiration on one side of the face

  • Smaller pupil

  • Shoulder pain

  • Facial swelling

In some cases, patients may get recurring infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. If you have any symptoms associated with Lung Cancer, you should immediately see your doctor. 

Diagnosis of Lung Cancer

To diagnose Lung Cancer, a wide range of diagnostic tests and procedures are prescribed by health professionals. Here’s a list of these tests and procedures. 

  • Blood tests

  • Imaging tests such as CT Scan, MRI scan, chest X-ray, and PET scan

  • Bronchoscopy (to examine inside the airways of the lungs)

  • Sputum cytology (microscopic examination of the phlegm to detect cancer cells)

  • Biopsy (lung tissue samples are taken with a special needle and examined to see whether it is cancerous)

Imaging tests determine the stage, and biopsy analysis determines the type and grade of Lung Cancer.

Treatment of Lung Cancer

Treatment of Lung Cancer depends on several factors like the type of cancer, stage and grade, location, overall health condition of the patient, and individual preferences.

Since all cancer treatments have adverse effects, one must consult the healthcare professional about the most appropriate course of treatment, including the advantages and disadvantages. Here are some treatment options for Lung Cancer.

1. Surgery

Different types of surgery are available depending upon the stage and spread of cancer.

  • Segmental resection: Only a small part of the lung that is affected is removed

  • Lobectomy: One lobe of the lung is entirely removed

  • Pneumonectomy: An entire lung is removed

  • Sleeve resection: A part of the bronchus is removed, and after that, the lung is again attached to the residual part of the bronchus

2. Chemotherapy

It's a form of drug therapy that targets and destroys cancer cells throughout the body and reduces the tumour size.

3. Radiation Therapy 

High energy radiation is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumour/s.

4. Radiofrequency Ablation 

A thin needle is inserted inside the body, and through it, an electric current is used to destroy the cancerous cells.

5. Targeted Therapy 

Targeted therapies work by targeting and blocking the protein inside the cancer cells that help the cancer cells to grow and spread. Targeted therapies kill the cancerous cells only and not the healthy cells.

6. Immunotherapy 

It helps activate the immune system of the patient and helps the body to fight against cancerous cells.

Preventive Measures

There is no foolproof method of preventing Lung Cancer. However, you can take the following steps to reduce the risk.

  • Quit smoking: According to the American Cancer Society, the best way to prevent Lung Cancer is to avoid direct and passive smoking.

  • Eating a balanced diet: A balanced diet including nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables helps protect against Lung Cancer.

  • Exercise regularly: Physical exercises help prevent Lung Cancer and keep you healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and their answers pertaining to Lung Cancer.

What are the early signs of Lung Cancer?


Usually, symptoms of Lung Cancer don't appear until later stages. However, the early signs may include the following.

  • Persistent coughing

  • Chest pain that intensifies with coughing or laughing

  • Blood in the sputum

  • Voice hoarseness

  • Breathlessness or gasping

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

Can Lung Cancer be cured?


Lung Cancer is not curable, but early detection can lead to better treatment outcomes.

What is the survival rate of Lung Cancer?


According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for Non-small Cell Lung Cancer is 26%, and for Small Cell Lung Cancer is 7%.

Does Lung Cancer spread quickly?


Lung Cancer is an aggressive type of cancer that spreads at a brisk pace. However, NSCLC spreads less rapidly than SCLC.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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