Types of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is very serious and often lethal, especially if the cancer has already spread to other bodily organs. Lung cancer is now the most common form of cancer diagnosed in the United States, and it causes more deaths than any other cancer among men and women. Lung cancer makes up 14 percent of all cancers and 28 percent of cancer deaths. This is because lung cancer is usually diagnosed when it is already too late.
There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell carcinoma and non-small cell carcinoma. It is important to diagnose which type of cancer a patient has because that will help determine the course of lung cancer treatment.
Small Cell Lung Cancer
Also called oat cell lung cancer and small cell carcinoma, small cell lung cancer is one of the two types of lung cancer. It differs from its counterpart, non-small cell lung cancer, in that it spreads much more quickly. Small or oat cell lung cancer is also much less common than non-small cell lung cancer, accounting for only about 20 percent of all types of lung cancer.
Progression of Small Cell Lung Cancer
Because it is such a progressive disease, oat cell lung cancer tends to form metastases in the lung and in nearby organs, and once these metastases develop, it is too late to perform surgery. Instead, the oat cell lung cancer and the metastases are typically treated with cryosurgery (during which oat cell lung cancer cells are frozen and destroyed), chemotherapy, and radiation treatments.
Causes of Small Cell Lung Cancer
Believed to be caused by smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, oat cell lung cancer typically surfaces as small, round, oat-shaped cells (hence the name oat cell lung cancer) on the layer of tissue just below the mucous membrane of the lung.
Symptoms of Small Cell Lung Cancer
Symptoms of oat cell lung cancer include swelling in the neck, pain, tenderness, shortness of breath, and persistent coughing.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Non-small cell lung cancer can fall into three categories: squamous cell carcinoma (also called epidermoid carcinoma), adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for up to 80 percent of all lung cancer cases.
These types of non-small cell lung cancers are lumped together because 1) unlike small cell lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer can be treated with lung cancer surgery even after they have spread and 2) non-small cell lung cancers tend to grow and spread much more slowly than small cell lung cancer, often not spreading outside the chest cavity until the disease is very advanced.
Causes of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Non-small cell lung cancers are believed to be caused by exposure to asbestos, exposure to harmful substances (such as benzene, fiberglass, uranium, petroleum products, and radon), and the combination of cigarette smoke and exposure to toxic substances.
Symptoms of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Symptoms of non-small cell lung cancer include a persistent cough that worsens over time, continual chest pains, coughing up or expectorating blood, shortness of breath, hoarseness, tightening in the chest, recurring pneumonia or bronchitis, inflammation of the face and neck, unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite, and extreme exhaustion.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell lung cancer, also called epidermoid carcinoma, accounts for about 30 percent of all cases of non-small cell lung cancer. Squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma lung cancer is essentially cancer of the epithelial (surface) cells of the lungs or bronchi. As these cells divide, they form tumors, often lining the breathing passages.
Causes of Squamous Cell Lung Cancer
If you have developed squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma lung cancer, exposure to toxic substances might be to blame, even if you smoke or have smoked in the past.
Squamous cell lung cancer has a somewhat high recurrence rate. Even patients who are said to be in remission are at high risk for an epidermoid carcinoma relapse. The overall five-year survival rate for squamous cell lung cancer patients is 15 percent; for patients who are diagnosed and treated early, that rate can be as high as 50 percent.
Progression of Squamous Cell Lung Cancer
Squamous cell carcinoma lung cancer or epidermoid carcinoma is a slow-spreading, slow-growing disease that develops in the central parts of the lungs. These tumors of epidermoid carcinoma can be confined to the lungs for years before they begin spreading outside of the chest cavity making it much easier to treat squamous cell lung cancer than some other types of cancers.
In some cases—especially when the epidermoid carcinoma is advanced—squamous cell lung cancer cells can be carried to other parts of the body, such as the chest wall, heart, esophagus, or neck-through the blood or other bodily fluids and eventually grow in the brain, liver, bone, and adrenal glands.
Symptoms of Squamous Cell Lung Cancer
Symptoms of this squamous cell lung cancer may include shortness of breath, the coughing up of blood, fatigue, chest pains, and unexplained weight loss. Epidermoid carcinoma is typically treated with lung cancer surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Adenocarcinoma is a type of non-small cell lung cancer that accounts for up to one-third of all cases of lung cancer. The progression of adenocarcinoma is quite unpredictable. In most cases, adenocarcinoma spreads slowly and causes very few lung cancer symptoms. But it can also be extremely invasive, aggressively spreading through the body and causing death before it can be treated.
Causes of Adenocarcinoma
If you have developed adenocarcinoma, exposure to toxic substances might be to blame, even if you smoke or have smoked in the past. Given the disease's variability, the five-year prognosis for patients with adenocarcinoma is dim: most are given only a 10 percent chance of survival.
Progression of Adenocarcinoma
Most adenocarcinoma cases originate in the outer lungs, but roughly 33 percent first surface in the lungs' central regions. Once adenocarcinoma cancer cells develop, they form thick tumors that inhibit breathing and lung function. Sometimes, these tumors spread to the liver, adrenal glands, and bones, making adenocarcinoma much more difficult to treat. In about half of the cases in which adenocarcinoma spreads from the lungs, it forms metastases in only the brain.
Symptoms of Adenocarcinoma
Symptoms of adenocarcinoma lung cancer may include shortness of breath, the coughing up of blood, fatigue, chest pains, and unexplained weight loss. Adenocarcinoma is usually treated with lung cancer surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Large Cell Lung Cancer
If you have developed large cell carcinoma or bronchoalveolar carcinoma, exposure to toxic substances might be to blame, even if you smoke or have smoked in the past.
Progression of Large Cell Lung Cancer
Typically, large cell carcinoma cells develop in the smaller bronchi or in scarred tissue around the outer edges of the lungs. These large cell carcinoma cells divide and replicate quickly, forming tumors that aggressively spread from the lungs to other parts of the body.
Bronchoalveolar carcinoma lung cancer differs slightly from other types of large cell carcinoma in that bronchoalveolar carcinoma is, in fact, a type of adenocarcinoma. Bronchoalveolar carcinoma surfaces as layers of cells (arranged in columns) that quickly disperse from the lung's lining through the airways, impairing breathing and lung function. Once relatively rare, bronchoalveolar carcinoma is becoming an increasingly more common form of large cell carcinoma.
Symptoms of Large Cell Lung Cancer
Symptoms of large cell carcinoma and bronchoalveolar carcinoma may include shortness of breath, the coughing up of blood, fatigue, chest pains, and unexplained weight loss. Large cell carcinoma and bronchoalveolar carcinoma are usually treated with surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
One of the oldest and most dangerous occupational diseases worldwide, silicosis is a type of cystic fibrosis that develops when silica dust particles become trapped in the lungs and form breathing-restricting nodules. These nodules, or scar tissue, handicap the lungs' air sacs, inhibiting the flow of oxygen to and from the lungs. Miners, sandblasters, concrete laborers, and anyone who routinely works or has worked around silica is at risk for exposure.
Causes of Silicosis
Silicosis is caused by exposure to silica dust, which is released during the mining of slate, flint, coal, granite, sandstone, and quartz. Silica dust is composed of flakes from free crystalline silica, one of the earth's most abundant and deadly natural minerals. When inhaled, silica dust wreaks havoc on the lungs, spurring the development of silicosis and other debilitative lung diseases such as sarcoidosis, silico-tuberculosis, and a myriad of autoimmune diseases.
Symptoms of Silicosis
Though largely preventable, silicosis is irreversible and deadly, and it can take more than 20 years to surface in someone who has been exposed to silica dust. Although it is marked by symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and weakness, this asbestos-related disease can usually be diagnosed only through a chest x-ray.
Mesothelioma is an extremely rare and deadly asbestos-related cancer. There are two types of mesothelioma: pleural mesothelioma (which affects the pleura, or lining, of the lungs) and peritoneal mesothelioma (which attacks the lining, or peritoneum, of the abdominal cavity).
Causes of Mesothelioma
Both pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma are caused by exposure to asbestos, a dangerous, naturally occurring, fibrous mineral used for insulation and in product manufacture. Both types of mesothelioma cancer can both be directly attributed to the asbestos exposure.
Progression of Mesothelioma
Both peritoneal and pleural mesothelioma have a somewhat lengthy incubation period (sometimes 10 to 50 years) so many victims don't notice symptoms of either peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma cancer until long after exposure to asbestos. The most frightening fact is that even people who were exposed to asbestos in the short term—such as at a summer job—are at risk for developing either peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma cancer.
Symptoms Pleural Mesothelioma
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma cancer include shortness of breath, chest pain, a persistent cough, loss of appetite, fatigue, accumulation of pleural fluid (which causes chest pain), and weight loss. However, mesothelioma symptoms often don't surface until either peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma is very advanced; instead, the disease can be detected only through a routine chest x-ray or, in some cases, a transbronchial biopsy (a procedure in which a tube is inserted down the throat and tissue is extracted and tested for mesothelioma cancer).
There is no known cure for mesothelioma cancer, although mesothelioma can be treated with chemotherapy, mesothelioma surgery, pneumonectomy, radiation therapy, and gene therapy.
Other Types of Lung Cancer
Some less common varieties of lung cancer are carcinoid tumor and bronchioalveolar carcinoma. Carcinoid tumors form in the glands near the bronchi. Bronchioalveolar carcinoma develops around scars on the outer edges of the lungs.
Contact a Lung Cancer Lawyer to Review Your Case
If you or someone you love have developed lung cancer or a lung disease and have been exposed to asbestos, silica dust, radon gas, and benzene, smoking may not be to blame for your condition. It is important to contact a lung cancer attorney in your area to discuss your legal rights.