About Lung Cancer

A Good Reason to Quit Smoking

Your risk of developing lung cancer is 10 times greater if you smoke. In addition, researchers are finding that smoking also may contribute to other types of cancer, including cancer of the larynx, oral cavity, esophagus, urinary bladder, kidney, pancreas, stomach and uterine cervix.

There are many tools available to help smokers quit. The nicotine patch, gum and nasal spray, known collectively as nicotine replacement therapy or nicotine substitutes, provide lower doses of nicotine to the smoker without the other harmful components of tobacco. Nicotine replacement therapy helps to alleviate the physical withdrawal symptoms of quitting, allowing the smoker to direct more energy towards coping with the psychological aspects of successfully breaking the addiction.

There is also a drug called Zyban (bupropion) that reduces the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Zyban works on chemicals in the brain related to nicotine cravings. It can be used together with nicotine replacement therapy. In fact, one study found that using both the nicotine patch and Zyban helped 58% of smokers remain smoke-free for more than a month.

Hypnosis and acupuncture may be helpful for some people.

Filters that reduce the tar and nicotine in cigarettes are not very effective; studies show that smokers who use filters actually tend to smoke more. There is no scientific evidence supporting claims of over-the-counter smoking-deterrent products that change the taste of tobacco, or special diets and dietary supplements that claim to control nicotine cravings.

Cancer FAQs

Why is lung cancer detected late?

Once symptoms have occurred, lung cancer is often incurable.Many smokers dismiss the early signs of cancer, such as a persistent cough.You may wrongly assume that your coughing and wheezing are related to a “smoker’s cough.” If your cough persists for more than a few weeks, see your physician.

Are there different types of lung cancer?

Yes, there are two. Small cell cancer, sometimes called oat cell cancer, occurs almost exclusively in smokers and accounts for 20 percent of lung cancers. It is a fast-growing tumor, which quickly spreads to other organs. Nonsmall cell lung cancer is more common and appears in three types of lung cancer: squamous cell (the most common in men), adenocarcinoma (the most common in women), and large cell.

Are physicians trying to find new ways to detect lung cancer early?

Yes, the Early Lung Cancer Action Project, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, found that low-dose, multi-row spiral CT scanning is six times more sensitive than x-ray in detecting Stage I lung cancer. Currently, there are a number of medical centers around the country offering the technique on a self-pay basis.

Why is secondhand smoke harmful?

Because of the way tobacco burns, secondhand smoke (smoke from someone nearby) contains twice as much tar and nicotine per unit volume as does smoke inhaled from a cigarette. It contains three times as much of a cancer-causing compound called 3,4 benzpyrene, five times as much carbon monoxide and possibly 50 times as much ammonia. Secondhand smoke from pipes and cigars may be even more harmful.

How is lung cancer treated?

When surgery is indicated, patients may undergo a wedge resection, which removes a small section of lung; a lobectomy, which removes an entire lobe (a larger segment of lung); or a pneumonectomy, removal of an entire lung. Small peripheral tumors can be diagnosed and treated with video-assisted thoracoscopy. During this procedure, a tube is inserted to collapse the lung to one-quarter of its normal size. This creates a space through which a pen-sized instrument can be inserted through the chest wall to biopsy and remove small tumors. Radiation therapy is now more precise with the use of MRI and CT imaging, allowing design of a 3-D treatment plan. Research is underway to make chemotherapy more effective by timing and sequencing dosage with radiation and surgery.

What is the genetic link to lung cancer?

According to a report published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute in late 1999, a genetic mutation found in about 10 percent of lung cancers is linked to aggressive tumors and a four times higher risk of dying from the disease. The mutation, called K-ras, is three times more common in women smokers than in men.


Myth: It is easy to quit smoking.
Fact: It may be more difficult than you think. Smoking is an addiction that involves chemicals that affect emotions and behavior. Many who have quit for good did not do so on their first try. Even if you smoke only one or two cigarettes after you quit, the chances are high that you will return to being a regular smoker.

Myth: Smoking cigars or pipes is not as bad as cigarettes.
Fact: Cigar and pipe smokers are equally at risk of lung cancer. Pipe smokers have an increased risk of cancer of the mouth, tongue and throat. Snuff and chewing tobacco also increase the risk of cancer of the mouth.

Myth: I don’t smoke; therefore, I won’t get lung cancer.
Fact: About 10 to 15 percent of all cases of lung cancer occur in non-smokers. Second-hand smoke exposure is widespread in the U.S. and throughout the world. It has been linked to lung cancer, heart attacks, low birth weights, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, chronic respiratory problems, eye and nasal irritation, and middle ear infections.


  • Persistent cough
  • Sputum streaked with blood
  • Chest pain
  • Recurring pneumonia or bronchitis

Risk Factors

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Exposure to chemicals, asbestos, radon
  • Secondhand smoke

Diagnostic Aids

  • Chest x-ray
  • Sputum analysis
  • Endoscopy of bronchial passages
  • CT scan

Treatment Options

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Clinical trials

Preventive Measures

  • Don’t smoke
  • Reduce exposure to chemicals and secondhand smoke