Lung Cancer Basics

Learn the basics of lung cancer including the different types, causes and risk factors and what kind of research is being done.

Though lung cancer is common, many people don't know much about it or are afraid to learn. Learning about lung cancer can help you better understand the disease and its risk factors. 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 is cancer that starts in the lungs. When a person has lung cancer, they have abnormal cells that cluster together to form a tumor. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells grow without order or control, destroying the healthy lung tissue around them. These types of tumors are called malignant tumors. When the cancer cells spread, they prevent organs of the body from functioning properly.

Key Points

  • Lung cancer happens when cells in the lung change (mutate). They grow uncontrollably and cluster together to form a tumor.
  • Lung cells most often change because they are exposed to dangerous chemicals that we breathe.
  • There are two main types of lung cancer, small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common.
  • Lung cancer symptoms usually do not appear until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. At this point, it is harder to treat lung cancer.

Causes & Risk Factors

Lung cancer occurs when lung cells mutate. Most often, this happens when people breathe in dangerous, toxic substances. Smoking is the greatest risk factor, but there are others like exposure to radon gas and air pollution.
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Lung Cancer Symptoms

Lung cancer can go undiagnosed for a long time because symptoms—such as a nagging cough—can be chalked up to other health issues. If your symptoms persist, ask your doctor about lung cancer.
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Screening for Lung Cancer

Screening is available for those who are at high risk. If you are over 55 and have a smoking history, you may be eligible for lung cancer screening.

Types of Lung Cancer

No two lung cancers are the same. There are different types and subtypes of lung cancer. Knowing this and whether or not a tumor has any biomarkers can help inform treatment options.


How lung cancer is diagnosed differs from person to person. Your medical team chooses tests based on a number of factors.
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Staging means finding out if and how much the lung cancer has spread. The tumor stage helps shape a treatment plan.
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Your lung cancer treatment options depend on your unique lung cancer.
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Work is being done to find cures and better early detection
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Lung Cancer Facts

Get facts and statistics on mortality, prevalence, gender and racial differences, survival rate and burden.
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Page last updated: August 23, 2021

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