What You Need To Know About Lung Cancer


    The diagnosis of lung cancer brings with it many questions and a need for
    clear, understandable answers. We hope this National Cancer Institute (NCI)
    booklet (NIH Publication No. 99-1553) will help. It provides information about
    some causes and ways to prevent lung cancer, and it describes the symptoms,
    detection, diagnosis, and treatment of this disease. Having this important
    information can make it easier for patients and their families to handle the
    challenges they face.

    Cancer research has led to progress against
    lung cancer — and our knowledge is increasing. Researchers continue to look for
    better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat lung cancer. The Cancer
    Information Service and the other NCI resources listed under “National Cancer
    Institute Information Resources” can provide the latest, most accurate
    information on lung cancer. Publications mentioned in this book and others are
    available from the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER. Many NCI
    publications are also available on the Internet at the Web sites listed in the
    “National Cancer Institute Information Resources” section at the end of this
    booklet.


    Words that may be new to readers appear in italics. Definitions of
    these and other terms related to lung cancer can be found in the Dictionary. For
    some words, a “sounds-like” spelling is also given.

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    Understanding the
    Cancer Process

    All types of cancer develop in our cells, the body’s basic unit of life. To
    understand cancer, it is helpful to know how normal cells become cancerous.

    The body is made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells grow, divide, and
    produce more cells as needed to keep the body healthy and functioning properly.
    Sometimes, however, the process goes astray — cells keep dividing when new
    cells are not needed. The mass of extra cells forms a growth or tumor. Tumors can be benign or malignant.

    Benign tumors are not cancer. They often can be removed and, in most
    cases, they do not come back. Cells in benign tumors do not spread to other
    parts of the body. Most important, benign tumors are rarely a threat to
    life.

    Malignant tumors are cancer. Cells in malignant tumors are abnormal
    and divide without control or order. These cancer cells can invade and destroy
    the tissue around them. Cancer cells can also
    break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system (the tissues and organs that produce,
    store, and carry white blood cells that fight infection and other diseases).
    This process, called metastasis, is how cancer
    spreads from the original (primary) tumor to form new (secondary) tumors in
    other parts of the body.

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    The Lungs

    The lungs, a pair of sponge-like, cone-shaped organs, are part of the
    respiratory system. The right lung has three
    sections, called lobes; it is a little larger
    than the left lung, which has two lobes. When we breathe in, the lungs take in
    oxygen, which our cells need to live and carry out their normal functions. When
    we breathe out, the lungs get rid of carbon dioxide, which is a waste product of
    the body’s cells.

    Diagram of the lungs

    The lungs

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