Lung Cancer - Describe Your Experience

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What is lung cancer?

Cancer of the lung, like all cancers, results from an abnormality in the body's basic unit of life, the cell. Normally, the body maintains a system of checks and balances on cell growth so that cells divide to produce new cells only when new cells are needed. Disruption of this system of checks and balances on cell growth results in an uncontrolled division and proliferation of cells that eventually forms a mass known as a tumor.

Tumors can be benign or malignant; when we speak of "cancer," we are referring to those tumors that are malignant. Benign tumors usually can be removed and do not spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, grow aggressively and invade other tissues of the body, allowing entry of tumor cells into the bloodstream or lymphatic system and then to other sites in the body. This process of spread is termed metastasis; the areas of tumor growth at these distant sites are called metastases. Since lung cancer tends to spread or metastasize very early after it forms, it is a very life-threatening cancer and one of the most difficult cancers to treat. While lung cancer can spread to any organ in the body, certain locations -- particularly the adrenal glands, liver, brain, and bones -- are the most common sites for lung cancer metastasis.

The lung also is a very common site for metastasis from tumors in other parts of the body. Tumor metastases are made up of the same type of cells as the original (primary) tumor. For example, if prostate cancer spreads via the bloodstream to the lungs, it is metastatic prostate cancer in the lung and is not lung cancer.

The principal function of the lungs is to exchange gases between the air we breathe and the blood. Through the lung, carbon dioxide is removed from the bloodstream and oxygen from inspired air enters the bloodstream. The right lung has three lobes, while the left lung is divided into two lobes and a small structure called the lingula that is the equivalent of the middle lobe on the right. The major airways entering the lungs are the bronchi, which arise from the trachea. The bronchi branch into progressively smaller airways called bronchioles that end in tiny sacs known as alveoli where gas exchange occurs. The lungs and chest wall are covered with a thin layer of tissue called the pleura.

Lung cancer picture

Picture of lung cancer.
Picture of lung cancer.

Lung cancers can arise in any part of the lung, but 90% to 95% of cancers of the lung are thought to arise from the epithelial cells, the cells lining the larger and smaller airways (bronchi and bronchioles); for this reason, lung cancers are sometimes called bronchogenic cancers or bronchogenic carcinomas. (Carcinoma is another term for cancer.) Cancers also can arise from the pleura (called mesotheliomas) or rarely from supporting tissues within the lungs, for example, the blood vessels.

Return to Lung Cancer

See what others are saying

Comment from: baltobilly, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: March 14

In January 2013 through test at the Veterans Affairs hospital, I was found to need a heart valve replaced. While doing an x-ray cancer was found in my right lung. It was stage 2 cancer but the heart valve had to be replaced before they could operate on the cancer. On April 4th 2013 the heart valve was replaced, six weeks later they were going to operate on the lung, but it had grown and a piece grew onto my wind pipe so it had to be shrunk, so in July, August I had 37 radiation treatments and 7 chemotherapy treatments, it worked well. So in Jan 2014 they decided to operate and on the 14th, they had to remove my whole right lung, it's been 2 months and here I am.

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Comment from: MandaLee, 55-64 Male (Caregiver) Published: March 14

My dad was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer in December 2012. He called saying be couldn"t move the left side of his body so I went and took him to urgent care who transferred us to the hospital. He has 5 tumors on his brain and lungs are covered. He has had radiation on his brain then chemotherapy for his lungs. Chemotherapy didn't work at all so we did radiation on his lungs because it was shutting off the valve to his heart. He refused anymore chemotherapy just because it didn't work and he doesn"t want to be sick anymore. They are unable to do surgery because of the location of the tumors. My dad has never stopped working. He has been at his job for 26 years 12 hours shifts. He knows he is dying and doesn"t want to change his life because of cancer. Right now he has taken over a week off because he has been having extremely bad chest and back pains. I tried to get him to go to the doctor but he won"t. I think he is afraid of what they will tell him. We do MRI every 3 months and are currently waiting on test results. I'm only 26 my dad is 57, I am not ready to lose him.

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