What is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?

Non-small cell lung cancer is a general term for several different types of malignancies that develop in lung tissue. Most lung cancers are of the non-small cell variety, and although they differ in pathology, they all share some characteristics, cause many of the same symptoms, and respond to the same treatments. Non-small cell lung cancer tends to develop slowly over the course of several years, and it can cause breathing difficulties, coughing, and acute chest pains. It is usually fatal when the cancer is not diagnosed and treated in the early stages of development, but patients who receive prompt treatment often experience near full recoveries.

The three main types of non-small cell lung cancer are squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. The primary cause of all three types is smoking, accounting for almost 90 percent of cases. Long-term exposure to other environmental toxins such as diesel gas exhaust, industrial chemicals, and asbestos can also lead to these forms of lung cancer. In addition, some people may be genetically predisposed to developing cancer even if they are not exposed to carcinogens.


Non-small cell lung cancer may not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. As tumors grow within the lungs and cancer begins to spread, a person might experience shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and fatigue during and after activity. Chest and back pain, respiratory infections, and high blood pressure can develop as well. Left untreated, symptoms eventually become chronic and cause severe discomfort and illness.

A doctor who suspects non-small cell lung cancer can begin to formulate a diagnosis by asking about symptoms, smoking habits, and familial history of cancer. Chest x-rays and computerized tomography scans are performed to look for physical signs of tumors. If an unusual mass is found during imaging tests, a specialist can insert an endoscope down the throat to closely inspect the lungs and collect a tissue sample for lab analysis. Once a cancer diagnosis is confirmed, treatment is initiated right away to provide the best chances of recovery.

Early stage non-small cell lung cancer can often be treated surgically. If the cancer has not started to spread, a surgeon can excise isolated tumors and suture healthy lung tissue together. Moderate to severe lung cancer is treated with a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. If serious tissue damage has already occurred and respiratory failure is likely, a patient may need a lung transplant to survive. Following treatment, individuals can maximize their chances of recovery by avoiding smoke and toxins, exercising regularly, and maintaining healthy diet plans.



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