Why Does Lung Cancer Spread So Fast?

  • Medical Author:
    George Schiffman, MD, FCCP

    Dr. Schiffman received his B.S. degree with High Honors in biology from Hobart College in 1976. He then moved to Chicago where he studied biochemistry at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle. He attended Rush Medical College where he received his M.D. degree in 1982 and was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. He completed his Internal Medicine internship and residency at the University of California, Irvine.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Ask the experts

Why does lung cancer spread so quickly, faster than a lot of the other cancers?

Doctor's response

Lung cancers grow at different rates depending upon the intrinsic properties of the cancer. It is true that most lung cancers are actually detected very late in their course. This happens because lung cancer often has no symptoms and requires significant growth of the tumor or impingement of the tumor upon other organs to create symptoms.

Lung cancer is usually divided into two broad categories, small cell cancer and non-small cell cancer. Small cell lung cancer is notorious for growing extremely fast with death often occurring within 6 months when no treatment is received. This rapid growth, however, makes this type of cancer susceptible to chemotherapy agents. Lung cancers sometimes grow extremely slowly. In fact, when a doctor finds a nodule (a rounded density) on a chest X-ray, unless it has certain characteristics (like calcium deposits), it must be observed and followed for two years before the doctor can say that it is benign (non-malignant).

Quick GuideLung Cancer Symptoms, Stages, Treatment

Lung Cancer Symptoms, Stages, Treatment

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care

REFERENCE:

"Overview of the initial evaluation, diagnosis, and staging of patients with suspected lung cancer"
UpToDate.com

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Last Editorial Review: 6/9/2017

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