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Lung Cancer


People often decide to visit the doctor only after they have been bothered by certain complaints over a period of time. Individuals who have lung cancer frequently experience symptoms such as:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Hemoptysis (bloody, coughed-up sputum)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs)
Other symptoms that are associated with lung cancer include:
  • Weakness
  • Chills
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Speech difficulties or changes (e.g., hoarseness)
  • Finger/nail abnormalities (e.g., "clubbing," or overgrowth of the fingertip tissue)
  • Skin paleness or bluish discoloration
  • Muscle contractions or atrophy (shrinkage)
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Facial swelling or paralysis
  • Eyelid drooping
  • Bone pain/tenderness
  • Breast development in men

Physical Examination
Patients who are suspected of having lung cancer should undergo a thorough physical examination. In addition, the physician may ask the patient to provide a sample of sputum (matter from the throat and lungs, which is spit out through the mouth). The sputum sample will be sent for testing to see if it contains bacteria, other infectious organisms, or cancer cells; cancer cells may be present in the sputum in certain types of lung cancer. If sputum analysis does not provide a definite diagnosis, more tests will be needed. The physician may want to perform one or more of the following

  • Chest radiograph (x-ray) is used to detect enlarged lymph nodes in the chest or a localized mass in the lungs.
  • Computed tomography (CT or "CAT" scan) is a computer-assisted technique that produces cross-sectional images of the body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) is a diagnostic method in which hydrogen ions within the body (and/or specific body parts) are excited by exposure to a magnetic field. The resulting signals are processed by a computer to create an image of the chest to define the location and extent of lung involvement.
  • Bronchoscopy is a visual examination of the windpipe and lung branches performed by a pulmonologist (respiratory disease specialist) using a flexible scope. Bronchoscopy may involve brushings (using a small, brush-like device to gather cells from the tissue lining the respiratory system), washings of the respiratory tissues for cell analysis, and biopsy (removal and examination of small amounts of tissue). If the bronchoscopy is still unrevealing, or "negative," a needle biopsy may be performed.
  • Needle biopsy, with CT-guidance, may be performed on suspicious areas in the lungs or pleura. Fine needle aspiration (FNA) uses a slim, hollow needle that is attached to a syringe. The needle is inserted into the suspicious mass and it is pushed back and forth to free some cells, which are aspirated (drawn up) into the syringe and are smeared on a glass slide for analysis. Large needle, or core biopsy, uses a large-bore needle to obtain a tissue sample for analysis.
  • Bone scan may also be performed to rule out suspicions of metastasis to the bones. Metastasis is the process wherein cancerous cells break away from the original tumor, travel, and grow within other body parts.
Once the physician diagnoses lung cancer, the next step is to determine if the patient is a candidate for surgery. He or she will review the imaging studies (e.g., x-ray, CT scan, bone scan) to rule out distant metastasis.

If there is no evidence of metastasis, the patient may then undergo mediastinoscopy, a surgical inspection of the mediastinum (the tissues and organs of the middle chest, e.g., the heart and large vessels, windpipe, etc.). A small flexible device with a camera, called an endoscope, is inserted into the chest via an incision at the top of the sternum (breastbone), and the chest cavity is then examined.

The mediastinal lymph nodes usually are removed during this procedure. If the mediastinal lymph nodes are "negative" (do not contain any cancer cells), the patient may be a candidate for surgery. However, if mediastinal lymph nodes are "positive" (contain cancer cells) or are abnormally large on imaging studies (suggesting tumor involvement), the patient is not considered to be a surgical candidate.

Additional blood tests may be performed to look for lung cancer "markers" - that is, elements in the blood that are associated with the presence of lung cancer. For example, lung cancer may be indicated by abnormalities in the following.

  • PTH (parathyroid hormone) - Blood levels of PTH or PTH-related protein may help to distinguish lung cancer from cancer of the pleura or other diseases.
  • CEA (carcinogenic antigen) - a cancer-specific immune system protein that is present in many adenocarcinomas, including lung adenocarcinoma. Increased preoperative levels of CEA usually suggest a poor prognosis. A CEA level greater than 50 may indicate advanced stage lung cancer and should discourage treatment by resection.
  • CYFRA21-1 (cytokeratin fragment 19) - a protein marker of lung cancer.
Hazardous Jobs

Exposure to asbestos fibers causes mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma can result from very small fibers or dust particles at low exposure levels. Most such exposure would likely have occurred prior to 1973, but the latency period can be up to 40 years for most lung cancer to develop.

Many people have come into contact with asbestos fibers via their jobs, or occupational exposure. There is also a risk to the family members of those working in at-risk occupations; this exposure is called paraoccupational exposure. Likewise, people who live near sites likely to have asbestos around the facility are also at risk: refineries, power plants, factories, shipyards, steel mills and building demolition are types of work sites that can release asbestos fibers into the environment and contaminate nearby residential neighborhoods.


  • Asbestos product manufacturing (insulation, roofing, building, materials)
  • Automotive repair (brakes & clutches)
  • Construction/contractors
  • Maritime
  • Miners
  • Offshore rust removals
  • Oil refineries
  • Power plants
  • Railroads
  • Sand or abrasive manufacturers
  • Shipyards / ships / ship builders
  • Steel mills
  • Tile cutters

  • Auto Mechanics
  • Boiler makers
  • Bricklayers
  • Building Inspectors
  • Carpenters
  • Drywallers
  • Electricians
  • Floor Coverings
  • Furnace Workers
  • Glazers
  • Grinders
  • Hod carriers
  • Insulators
  • Iron workers
  • Laborers
  • Longshoremen
  • Maintenance workers
  • Merchant marines
  • Millwrights
  • Operating Engineers
  • Painters
  • Plasterers
  • Plumbers
  • Roofers
  • Sand blasters
  • Sheet metal workers
  • Steam fitters
  • Tile setters
  • Welders
  • U.S. Navy veterans
  • Welders
Many occupations have an increased risk for developing lung cancer. For example, asbestos insulation workers have 92 times the risk of developing of lung cancer, and smelter workers have 3-8 times the risk of developing lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer is also increased in people who work in the manufacturing of certain industrial gases, pharmaceuticals, soaps and detergents, paints, inorganic pigments, plastics, and synthetic rubber. The risk of developing lung cancer is related to the amount of exposure to the cancer-causing agent. For example, the risk of lung cancer in humans is proportional to the number of cigarettes smoked.

The risk of developing lung cancer is 8-20 times greater in smokers compared to people who have never smoked. A smaller, but real risk exists for cigar and pipe smokers. Some cancer causing agents react together to significantly worsen the risk of developing cancer. The combined exposure to asbestos and tobacco smoke clearly multiplies the risk of developing lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer is greater for those living in urban areas. This risk is approximately 1.2 to 2.3 times that of people living in rural areas. There is also an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers whose close relatives have had lung cancer. Scarring in the lungs from previous infections or injury can be associated with and increased risk of cancer.

Click on the Link below for a Power Point Program for information on the different types of Lung Cancer. Once Power Point program loads just click on the slide screen to go to the next pages. If you need the Power Point Viewer the link to install to your PC is also below.

  • Lung Cancer Information - Power Point Program (274 kb)

  • Power Point Viewer Download if needed

    Information provided by the American Cancer Society and other cancer related agencies.