Lung cancer is a disease which consists of uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. This growth may lead to metastasis, which is the invasion of adjacent tissue and infiltration beyond the lungs. The vast majority of primary lung cancers are carcinomas of the lung, derived from epithelial cells. Lung cancer, the most common cause of cancer-related death in men and women, is responsible for 1.3 million deaths worldwide annually, as of 2004. The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, coughing (including coughing up blood), and weight loss.
The main types of lung cancer are small cell lung carcinoma and non-small cell lung carcinoma. This distinction is important, because the treatment varies; non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) is sometimes treated with surgery, while small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) usually responds better to chemotherapy and radiation. The most common cause of lung cancer is long-term exposure to tobacco smoke. The occurrence of lung cancer in nonsmokers, who account for as many as 15% of cases, is often attributed to a combination of genetic factors, radon gas, asbestos, and air pollution including secondhand smoke.
Lung cancer may be seen on chest radiograph and computed tomography (CT scan). The diagnosis is confirmed with a biopsy. This is usually performed by bronchoscopy or CT-guided biopsy. Treatment and prognosis depend upon the histological type of cancer, the stage (degree of spread), and the patient's performance status. Possible treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. Survival varies, depending on stage, overall health, and other factors, but the overall five-year survival rate for all persons diagnosed with lung cancer is 14%.
Lung cancers are classified according to histological type. This classification has important implications for clinical management and prognosis of the disease. The vast majority of lung cancers are carcinomas—malignancies that arise from epithelial cells. The two most prevalent histological types of lung carcinoma, categorized by the size and appearance of the malignant cells seen by a histopathologist under a microscope: non-small cell and small-cell lung carcinoma. The non-small cell type is the most prevalent by far (see accompanying table).
|Histological type||Frequency (%)|
|Non-small cell lung carcinoma||80.4|
|Small cell lung carcinoma||16.8|
|Unspecified lung cancer||1.9|
Cancer found outside of the lung may be determined to have arisen within the lung, as lung cancers that metastasize, i.e. spread, often retain a cell marker profile that allow a pathologist to say, with a good deal of certainty, that the tumor arose from the lung, i.e. is a primary lung cancer. Primary lung cancers of adenocarcinoma histology typically have nuclear immunostaining with TTF-1.
The non-small cell lung carcinomas are grouped together because their prognosis and management are similar. There are three main sub-types: squamous cell lung carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell lung carcinoma.
|Histological sub-type||Frequency of non-small cell lung cancers (%)|
|Squamous cell lung carcinoma||42||33|
|Adenocarcinoma||Adenocarcinoma (not otherwise specified)||39||35|
Accounting for 25% of lung cancers, squamous cell lung carcinoma usually starts near a central bronchus. A hollow cavity and associated necrosis are commonly found at the center of the tumor. Well-differentiated squamous cell lung cancers often grow more slowly than other cancer types.
Adenocarcinoma accounts for 40% of non-small cell lung cancers. It usually originates in peripheral lung tissue. Most cases of adenocarcinoma are associated with smoking; however, among people who have never smoked ("never-smokers"), adenocarcinoma is the most common form of lung cancer. A subtype of adenocarcinoma, the bronchioloalveolar carcinoma, is more common in female never-smokers, and may have different responses to treatment.
Small cell lung carcinoma is less common. It was formerly referred to as "oat cell" carcinoma. Most cases arise in the larger airways (primary and secondary bronchi) and grow rapidly, becoming quite large. The small cells contain dense neurosecretory granules (vesicles containing neuroendocrine hormones), which give this tumor an endocrine/paraneoplastic syndrome association. While initially more sensitive to chemotherapy and radiation, it is often metastatic at presentation, and ultimately carries a worse prognosis. Small cell lung cancers have long been dichotomously staged into limited and extensive stage disease. This type of lung cancer is strongly associated with smoking.