Lung with a tumor on it

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide. It often doesn’t cause symptoms until it enlarges within the lung or metastasizes (spreads) to other areas of the body. Smoking is the leading risk factor, but it can affect non-smokers as well. In the United States, lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer.

Paraneoplastic syndromes may trigger diagnostic testing. Diagnosis is established through imaging studies, tissue biopsy, and, sometimes, liquid biopsy blood tests. There are several types of lung cancer, each defined by the type of lung cell from which they started. 

Treatment includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and/or symptom management. The outcome of lung cancer is generally better when it is diagnosed at an earlier stage, but each type of lung cancer has its own anticipated prognosis as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is lung cancer curable?

    Lung cancer can be treated, but it is rarely cured. Surgery can relieve symptoms and remove some or all detectable cancer if it is confined. Cancer might not recur after treatment, but it may return if the cancer could not be fully treated due to advanced stage or undetectable tumor cells.

  • What are the signs of lung cancer?

    Lung cancer often doesn’t produce signs until late stages. Signs include persistent cough, hoarse voice, shortness of breath, chest tightness, hemoptysis (coughing up blood), lung infections, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue. Signs of progressive disease or metastasis include neck swelling, blood clots, and/or bone pain. Paraneoplastic effects include high calcium and low sodium.

  • What causes lung cancer?

    Lung cancer is typically caused by smoking or secondhand smoke. Inhaled toxins from industrial chemicals, air pollution, and radon are also associated with lung cancer. These agents damage healthy lung cells and transform them into cancer cells through harmful mutations. Lung cancer cells are dysfunctional, grow rapidly, can invade healthy tissue, and can spread at distance.

  • Is lung cancer genetic?

    Approximately 8% of lung cancers are inherited or occur as a result of a genetic predisposition. Alterations in several genes, including EGFR, ROS-1, ALK, and BRAF, are often detected with genetic testing for lung cancer but, most of the time, these alterations are not inherited. Sometimes treatment can be targeted toward these alterations and several oral agents are now available.

  • How is lung cancer detected?

    Imaging tests, including chest computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) may be used. Chest X-rays generally can’t detect lung cancer at an early stage. A biopsy can identify the type of lung cancer. Staging relies on biopsy features, size of the tumor, the presence of involved lymph nodes, and presence (or not) of metastases.

Key Terms

The Stages of Lung Cancer

Explore interactive models that show how lung cancer can progress in the body, and the changes that each stage of the disease refer to.

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Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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