Lung Cancer: About Lung Cancer

Lung cancer generally occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow in the lungs or in the air passages (bronchi) leading to the lungs. These cells fail to mature normally and create healthy lung tissue.  Instead they grow rapidly and start forming solid masses called tumors. As these tumors get larger, and increase in number, they interfere with the lungs’ capacity to do their job---providing oxygen to the bloodstream.

There are two types of lung cancer:

  • Primary lung cancer starts in the lungs.  
  • Secondary lung cancer starts somewhere else in the body (such as the breast, kidney, pancreas, or skin) and then spreads to the lung.

These are treated in very different ways.

Not all lung tumors are cancerous. Benign tumors stay in one place and don’t spread throughout the lungs.

Malignant tumors require immediate and aggressive treatment.  The lungs contain a network of blood vessel and lymph vessels.   A malignant tumor can use this network to spread to other parts of the body, depositing cancer cells in a new location. When a cancer moves beyond its point of origin to other organs, this is known as metastasis, (from meta meaning “beyond” and stasis, meaning “a state of balance.”)

Lung cancer usually takes many years to develop. However, the tissue in the air passages leading to the lung can be altered after exposure to cigarette smoke, or certain cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) in the environment. With constant exposure, the body produces even more abnormal cells, accelerating the disease process.