Lung Cancer Basics

When you know more about lung cancer, you can feel more in control of your health and help educate others. Learning about lung cancer can help you better understand the disease and its risk factors.

What Is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer happens when cells in the lung change (or mutate). Most often, this is because of exposure to dangerous chemicals that we breathe. But lung cancer can also happen in people with no known exposure to toxic substances. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells grow uncontrollably and cluster together to form a tumor, destroying healthy lung tissue around them. Symptoms usually do not appear until cancer cells spread to other parts of the body and prevent other organs from functioning properly. At this point, it is harder to treat lung cancer.

Key Points

  • Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the U.S.
  • Smoking poses the greatest risk, but there are others such as exposure to radon and air pollution.
  • Screening high risk individuals has the potential to dramatically improve lung cancer survival rates.
  • There are multiple types of lung cancer. Knowing this information can help inform treatment options.

Early Detection Is Important

Though lung cancer is common, many people don't know much about it or are afraid to learn. Lung cancer can go undiagnosed for a long time because symptoms usually do not appear until the cancer has spread. If you are over 55 and have a smoking history, you are at high risk and you may be eligible for lung cancer screening.

Page last updated: November 17, 2022

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