What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is an aggressive disease that claims more lives than other type of cancer. It is the result of a cell mutation that causes uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs. As cells divide, an exact copy of DNA is duplicated in the new cell rendering both old and new cells identical. At times, however, a mutation may occur in a cell’s DNA during replication due to old age, genetic factors or environmental factors. In the case of lung cancer, a series of mutations occur before a lung cancer cell is created. As the cells divide and become mutate even more, they can develop into a tumor. In the later stage of the disease, cells may even travel away from the tumor and begin growing in other parts of the body.

Pulmonologists have specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of lung disease. At Pulmonary Associates of Brandon, our pulmonary specialists can perform tests and biopsies, develop treatment plans, and work with patients to provide comprehensive lung cancer care and treatment.

There are three main types of lung cancer: 

1. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for 80 to 85 percent of all incidences. Though this type of lung cancer is slower to grow and spread, it is relatively insensitive to chemotherapy and should be treated as soon as it is discovered. Primary treatment of NSCLCs involves surgical resection, with chemotherapy considered as a pre-operative and/or postoperative measure.

There are three kinds of NSCLC tumors:

  • Adenocarcinomas begin in early versions of secretory lung cells. They constitute the most common type of lung cancer, found among smokes and nonsmokers alike.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is caused by mutations in early versions of squamous cells (flat cells that line the inside of the airways in the lungs) near a main airway of the lung. This type of lung cancer is often linked to a history of smoking.
  • Large cell carcinoma grows and spreads more quickly than the other NSCLCs.

2. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

Smokers are the most common victims of small cell carcinoma. An aggressive subtype of lung, SCLCs can become fatal within just a few weeks without treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation are the main options for primary treatment.

There are two main types of small cell lung cancer.

  • Oat cell cancer is named for its small, oval-shaped cells which resemble grains of oat under a microscope. Most SCLCs are oat cell cancer, and the two names are often used interchangeably. Prolonged exposure to tobacco is the most common risk factor for oat cell cancer.
  • Combined small cell carcinoma occurs when a malignant lung cancer contains a component of small cell lung carcinoma combined with one or more components of non-small cell lung carcinoma. Referred to as c-SCLC, combined small cell carcinoma is believed to be even more aggressive and fatal than “pure” SCLC.   

3. Lung Carcinoid Tumor

Lung carcinoid tumors are uncommon and tend to grow more slowly than other types of lung cancers. This cancer is unique as chemicals, pollutants and smoking are not risks factors.


Smokers pose the highest risk for lung cancer, and smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoke is an environmental risk factor for cancer, and exposure can predispose even non-smokers to the disease.

Lung carcinoid tumors:

Women, people of white european descent and people with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 are at a higher risk for lung carcinoid tumors.

People exposed to the following:

  • Arsenic
  • Chromium
  • Silica
  • Substances used or produced in foundries
  • Substances produced by processing coal
  • Radon

What are the symptoms of Lung Cancer?

In the early stages of lung cancer there are typically little to no symptoms. As the disease advances, the following signs and symptoms may emerge.

Lung-related Symptoms:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Changes in a chronic cough or "smoker's cough"
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lung congestion
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • A change in color or volume of sputum
  • Harsh sounds with each breath (stridor)
  • Recurrent lung problems, such as bronchitis or pneumonia

Other Symptoms:

  • Bone pain
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • Muscle wasting (cachexia)
  • Fatigue
  • Neurological symptoms, such as unsteady gait or memory loss
  • Neck or facial swelling
  • General weakness
  • Blood clots

If you have any of the above symptoms, we recommend calling Pulmonary Associates of Brandon  immediately and making an appointment with one our pulmonary specialists to diagnose your symptoms.

Please remember that if you are over 65 or a smoker, these symptoms may indeed indicate the presence of lung cancer, and the sooner you seek treatment, the higher your chances of recovery.