Tests for Lung Cancer

Small-cell and non-small cell lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer. Men are more likely to get prostate cancer, while women are more likely to get breast cancer. Most people with lung cancer are older. Most people who get lung cancer are 65 years old or older; only a small number are younger than 45. On average, people are told they have it when they are 70 years old.

Lung cancer is by far the most common cancer-related cause of death, accounting for almost 25% of all cancer-related deaths. Each year, lung cancer kills more people than colon, breast, and prostate cancers put together.

On the bright side, the number of new cases of lung cancer keeps going down, in part because people are giving up smoking. Also, the number of people who die from lung cancer keeps going down because people are giving up smoking and there are advances in early detection and treatment.

In this article, we will review lung cancer symptoms, early detection, and testing.

What is Lung Cancer?

Your lungs are two soft organs in your chest that take in oxygen when you breathe in and let out carbon dioxide when you breathe out.

Lung cancer is most likely to happen to people who smoke, but it can also happen to people who have never smoked. The longer and more often you smoke, the more likely it is that you will get lung cancer. Even if you have smoked for a long time, quitting can make it much less likely that you will get lung cancer later on in life. 

The two main types of lung cancer are very different, small-cell lung cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer. 

Small Cell Lung Cancer

A type of lung cancer that grows quickly and is often caused by smoking.

SCLC, which is sometimes called “oat cell cancer,” makes up about 10% to 15% of all lung cancers. Most people with this aggressive type of lung cancer are smokers. It usually starts in the airways called bronchi, and grows very quickly, making large tumors and spreading, or metastasizing, to other parts of the body.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

The first of the two major types of lung cancer can affect both smokers and people who have never smoked. NSCLC makes up about 80% to 85% of lung cancers. Adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma are the main types of NSCLC. Even though these subtypes start in different kinds of lung cells, they are often treated the same way and have similar outcomes.

  • Adenocarcinoma – Adenocarcinomas begin in cells that normally make mucus or other substances. People who smoke or have smoked in the past are more likely to get this type of lung cancer, but it is also the most common type of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke.

It is more likely to happen to younger people, and it is more likely to happen to women than to men. Most cases of adenocarcinoma happen in the outer parts of the lung, and it is more likely to be found early on before it has spread

  • Squamous cell carcinoma – Squamous cell carcinomas begin in squamous cells, which are flat cells that line the inside of the airways in the lungs. They are usually caused by a history of smoking and are usually found in the middle of the lungs, close to the main airway known as the bronchus.
  • Large cell or undifferentiated carcinoma – Large cell carcinoma can happen in any part of the lung. It grows and spreads quickly, which can make it more difficult to treat. Large-cell neuroendocrine carcinoma is a subtype of large-cell carcinoma that grows quickly and looks a lot like small-cell lung cancer

Along with the main types of lung cancer, other tumors can grow in the lungs. 

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

In its early stages, lung cancer rarely shows any signs or symptoms. Most lung cancer symptoms and signs show up when the disease is more advanced.

Some of the common signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A new cough that doesn’t go away
  • Coughing up blood, even a small amount
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Losing weight for seemingly no reason
  • Bone pain
  • Headache

How to Test for Lung Cancer

If there are signs that you are worried about and think you might have symptoms of lung cancer, your doctor can order several tests to look for cancerous cells and rule out other conditions.

These tests may include:

  • Imaging Tests –  An X-ray of your lungs may show a lump or nodule that shouldn’t be there. A CT scan can find small spots on your lungs that an X-ray might not be able to see
  • Sputum cytology – If you have a cough and are making sputum, putting the sputum under a microscope can sometimes show lung cancer cells
  • A tissue sample (biopsy) – During a procedure called a biopsy, a small sample of abnormal cells can be taken out and sent out to a lab for testing
  • Ultrasound – Uses sound waves to detect changes
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – Uses magnetic fields to show differences in the lungs
  • PET scan – For a PET scan, you are injected with a special tracer that gathers in places where there is a lot of chemical activity. On PET scans, cancer cells show up as bright spots because they are very busy

The type of lung cancer you have can be found by carefully looking at your cancer cells in a lab. The results of complex tests can tell your doctor what your cells are like, which can help figure out your prognosis and the path of treatment you should take.

Are you or someone you love concerned about your risk of lung cancer? Here at Clearview Cancer Institute, our specialists are experts in cancer diagnosis, treatment, and care. Give us a call at (888)374-1015 to schedule an appointment and possible screenings.