What is Lung Cancer?

When you inhale, the lungs transfer oxygen from the air to your blood. They also take
carbon dioxide from your blood and get rid of it when you exhale. Lung cancer is a disease
caused by the unchecked growth and spread of some cells from the lungs. Non-small cell
lung cancer is one of two major types of lung cancer. The other one is a small cell
lung cancer. Tests for detecting possible lung cancer include both non-invasive tests
and invasive tests. Non-invasive tests include chest x-rays and CT and PET scans. Invasive
tests include bronchoscopy, endobronchial ultrasound, thoracentesis, biomarker testing,
and biopsies such as fine needle aspiration or FNA, core needle biopsy, and surgical
lung biopsy. Your doctor can remove a small sample of your lung tissue where cancer is
suspected. This is known as a lung biopsy. To check for cancer, a pathologist studies
this biopsy sample under a microscope. If there is cancer, tiny amounts of the sample
are tested further for specific features that will identify the exact type of cancer present.
Lung cancer staging is a system that describes the overall size and spread of the main tumor.
Doctors need staging information to plan a patient’s treatment. Lung cancer is classified
into several stages. The higher the stage, the more advanced the spread of the disease.
In stage 0, the cancer is only in the top layer of the cells lining the lungs’ air
passages. This is also called carcinoma in situ. In stage 1, the cancer is small and
is only in one lobe of the lung and nowhere else. In stage 2a, the cancer is in one lung
and the main tumor is small, less than 3 cm or 3 to 5 cm wide, and has spread to nearby
lymph nodes. Stage 2a could also mean that the cancer is in one lung and the main tumor
is slightly bigger, 5 to 7 cm wide, but hasn’t spread to lymph nodes or elsewhere. In stage
2b, the cancer is in one lung and the main tumor is 5 to 7 cm wide and has spread to
nearby lymph nodes, but not elsewhere. Stage 2b could also mean that the main tumor is
wider than 7 cm and has not spread to lymph nodes or elsewhere. In stage 3a, the cancer
has spread to lymph nodes along the trachea on the same side as the main tumor. In stage
3b, the cancer has spread to lymph nodes along the trachea on the side opposite to the main
tumor. In stage 4, the cancer has spread to the other lung, as well as lymph nodes outside
the lungs, small lumps or nodules in the lining of the lung, fluid around the lung, known as
malignant pleural effusion, fluid around the heart, known as malignant pericardial effusion,
or other organs, such as the liver, brain, and bones.
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