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Lung Cancer - Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Lung Cancer - Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

4 min read


Cancer that begins in the lungs, and is more commonly seen in people who smoke, is called lung cancer. Read about the types, causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anshul Varshney

Published At September 2, 2021
Reviewed AtDecember 21, 2023


Cancer is a clinical condition characterized by the abnormal growth of cells at any particular area in the body. Lung cancer is a condition involving the lungs and is one of the main causes for causing death in the world.

Chronic smokers are at risk of developing lung cancer, but even passive smokers who are non-smokers can develop it. Quitting smoking even after many years of smoking can reduce the risk of developing it. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the commonest type of lung cancer, and it accounts for about 80 to 85 percent of all the cases reported.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

The symptoms are almost similar for non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Following are the symptoms that can be seen in the early stages of cancer:

  • Severe cough.

  • Voice hoarseness.

  • Breathlessness.

  • Weakness or tiredness.

  • Coughing of blood or phlegm.

  • Appetite.

  • Weight loss.

  • Chest pain - It can aggravate while laughing, coughing, etc.

  • Wheezing.

  • Recurrent infections of the respiratory system like bronchitis or pneumonia.

If there is a spread of cancer to other organs, it can cause symptoms related to the affected organs like:

  • In bones - Pain.

  • Lumps in the lymph nodes.

  • Jaundice if the liver gets affected.

  • Headache, paresthesia, dizziness, etc., if the spine is affected.

If it creates substances that resemble natural hormones of the body, it can cause the following symptoms:

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Weakness in the muscles.

  • Seizures.

  • Confusion.

  • Changes in blood pressure.

  • Coma.

How Is It Caused?

The most common cause is smoking. The small-cell type of cancer is commonly associated with smoking. The American lung association has reported that even inhalation of a naturally occurring radioactive gas, radon, can cause it. Inhalation of the following substances can also lead to lung cancer:

  • Asbestos.

  • Cadmium.

  • Arsenic.

  • Nickel.

  • Chromium.

  • Uranium.

  • Petroleum products.

The other cause is genetic.

What Are the Stages of Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is classified based on certain stages, which explain the extent of cancer. This can also help in the diagnosis and treatment planning of the condition. Following are the four main stages of non-small cell lung cancer:

  1. Stage 1: Cancer localized to the lungs.

  2. Stage 2: Cancer involving lungs and lymph nodes.

  3. Stage 3: Cancer involving lungs and lymph nodes in the middle chest. It can be further divided into subtypes A and B.

  4. Stage 4: Spread of cancer to both the lungs or to distant organs.

Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) has two main stages: the limited stage and the extensive stage. The limited stage is present only in one lung or adjacent lymph nodes on the same side of the chest. The extensive stage indicates the spread to the opposite lung, opposite side lymph nodes, bone marrow, distant organs, etc.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Following are the risk factors:

  • Smoking includes cigars, cigarettes, pipes, tobacco products.

  • Passive smoking

  • Radon exposure.

  • Genetic or hereditary.

  • History in the family.

  • History of chest radiation therapy.

How Can It Be Diagnosed?

When you visit your physician, you will be asked about the signs and symptoms that you have, personal and medical history, especially smoking history and genetic or hereditary, etc. A physical examination will be done. After the physical examination is done, certain specific tests will be done as follows:

  • Imaging tests like x-ray, CT, MRI, etc. Examination of sputum using sputum cytology

  • Biopsy - For this, the sample can be obtained from bronchoscopy, mediastinoscopy, needle biopsy. These samples are sent to a pathologist for analysis.

  • Bone scanning.

  • Chest x-ray.

  • PET scanning.

How Can It Be Treated?

There is an integrated team for deciding the treatment of lung cancer which involves a thoracic surgeon, pulmonologist, a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist. The basic treatment involves radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, and in severe stages, immunotherapy may also be required.

Are There Any Home Remedies?

Home remedies will not cure cancer but help in improving the condition. If you are deficient in certain nutrients, you should consult your physician before taking any supplement and changing the diet. A nutritionist can help you with the same. Certain options available as home remedies are massage, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, hypnosis. Sometimes, even cannabis oil helps in relieving nausea and vomiting associated with other treatments.

What Is the Prognosis and Life Expectancy?

Cancer can spread to any part of the body if it has entered lymph nodes and blood circulation. The prognosis is good if the treatment begins before cancer spreads to other organs or lymph nodes. Various other factors that can affect the prognosis include age, general health, and the body’s response to treatment. Later stages of treatment can have a lesser prognosis than treatment at earlier stages.

How Can It Be Prevented?

Prevention can be done using minimizing and taking care of the risk and causative factors. The most important is to limit smoking followed by lifestyle changes. The diet should be balanced, and exercise should be done. Air pollution should be minimized as it can contain carcinogenic gases. Protect yourself using masks in places where air pollution is high. Try to avoid passive smoking too by preventing exposure to smoke. Various other factors that can affect the prognosis include age, general health, and the body’s response to treatment. Later stages of treatment can have a lesser prognosis than treatment at earlier stages.


Lung cancer is the most common cause of death in the world and one of the most common cancers. Early diagnosis is very important to get early treatment and limit the spread of cancer, and thus, a better prognosis can be achieved. Online medical platforms make it easy to consult a physician anywhere, anytime. Hence, consult a specialist online to know about the condition and also the treatment options and prevention tips available for lung cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Do Lung Cancers Begin?

Lung cancers start to form when the healthy lung cells undergo DNA changes or cell mutations and develop into cancerous cells that multiply at faster rates. The cell growth and death cycle get affected. These uncontrollably replicating cells do not perform normal lung cell functions; instead, they accumulate to form masses and invade nearby tissues.


Can a Person Have Lung Cancer Without Knowing It?

A person may be having lung cancer and remain undetected for about eight to twenty years.


Does Cough Due to Lung Cancer Have Any Characteristic Feature?

Cough due to lung cancer have certain characteristic features such as,
- Chest pain during cough.
- Cough at night interrupting sleep.
- Dry or wet cough.
- Cough lasting continuously for more than 8 weeks.
- Blood in cough.
It does not necessarily mean that a person having these symptoms should have lung cancer. It can also be due to a less serious respiratory disease.


Can Lung Cancer Make One Feel Ill?

Though in the initial stages, lung cancer does not exhibit any sign or symptom, in advanced stages, it can make one feel ill, weak, and fatigued. It leads to a sick feeling. Other symptoms include,
- Chest pain that worsens with a laugh or cough.
- Blood in cough.
- Chronic cough.
- Shortness of breath.
- Wheezing.
- Recurring or persistent pneumonia or bronchitis.
- Weight loss.


What Is the Color of Mucus in People With Lung Cancer?

The mucus in people with lung cancer appears blood-tinged or rust-colored.


Where Does the Back Ache in People With Lung Cancer?

Backache in lung cancer can be felt most commonly in the middle and upper back and neck region. But it can also affect the lower back, buttock, legs, and arms.


Can X-Rays Detect Lung Cancer?

Though chest X-rays show lung cancer as white to grey masses, a definitive diagnosis cannot be reached as even lung abscesses show up similarly in X-rays. A PET (positron emission tomography) scan combined with CT (computed tomography) scan helps confirm lung cancer.


How Does Back Pain Due to Lung Cancer Feel Like?

Back pain due to lung cancer can be present both during activity and at rest. It worsens at night and with a deep breath. The pain may be sharp and stabbing in nature.


Can Lung Cancer Cause Weight Gain?

People with lung cancer can either gain or lose weight. Weight loss and appetite loss commonly occur with most cancers, and weight gain in lung cancer, especially in small-cell lung cancer, is due to the secretion of cortisol that leads to fluid retention and weight gain.


Can Blood Tests Reveal Lung Cancer?

Blood tests cannot reveal or diagnose lung cancer, but they reveal the overall health condition of people with cancer.


Can Other Conditions Be Mistaken to Be Lung Cancer?

Medical conditions that simulate lung cancer symptoms include,
- Tuberculosis.
- Lung nodules.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Pneumonia.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Pulmonary embolism.
- Lung abscesses.


Which Treatment Can Treat Lung Cancer Successfully?

Based on the type and staging of lung cancer, any one or a combination of the following treatment methodologies helps treat lung cancer.
- Radiation therapy.
- Chemotherapy.
- Targeted therapy.
- Surgery.


Where Can Pain Due to Lung Cancer Be Felt?

People with lung cancer can experience pain in their chest during cough, deep breath, or a laugh. Neck pain and back pain that extends to legs, arms, and buttock is also a frequent finding in the advanced stage.


Is Lung Cancer Fast-Spreading?

Lung cancer is of two types, small-cell, and non-small-cell lung cancer. Of the two, the former is a fast-growing and fast-spreading type of lung cancer.


What Ways Can Detox and Strengthen My Lungs?

- Practice breathing exercises.
- Avoid inhaling polluted air.
- Practice regular exercise.
- Stop smoking.
- Avoid passive smoking.
- Avoid inhaling dust and other smoke.
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. Anshul Varshney
Dr. Anshul Varshney

Internal Medicine


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