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About Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

  • What is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?

    Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer. It begins in the lungs and may spread to other parts of the body.

    PDQ image - Anatomy of the respiratory system, showing the trachea and both lungs and their lobes and airways 

    Non-small cell lung cancer begins when epithelial cells, which form the inside lining of the lungs, grow rapidly and uncontrollably. Often, these cells develop into a mass called a tumor. A malignant or cancerous tumor can stay in one place or spread to other parts of the body. The bronchi are sometimes also involved in lung cancer.

    Non-small cell lung cancer is more easily treatable when caught early and still localized in the lung, and has not spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body. Treatments may include a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and/or targeted medications.

    At Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, our dedicated thoracic team of radiologists, pathologists, medical oncologists, surgeons and radiation oncologists work together to determine:

    1. Whether you have cancer at all (there are other disorders that can look like cancer but have very different treatments and outcomes);
    2. What type of cancer you have;
    3. Whether your cancer can be immediately treated by surgery;
    4. Whether there are specific drugs to treat the cancer based on its genetic mutation;
    5. What set of treatments are likely to be most effective for your individual cancer.

    Risk Factors

    Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. 

    Risk factors for lung cancer may include the following:

    • Smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, now or in the past
    • Being exposed to secondhand smoke
    • Being treated with radiation therapy to the breast or chest
    • Being exposed to asbestos, radon, chromium, nickel, arsenic, soot, or tar
    • Living where there is air pollution
    • Family history of lung cancer

    When smoking is combined with other risk factors, the risk of developing lung cancer is increased.

    Symptoms of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

    Sometimes lung cancer does not cause any symptoms and is found during a routine chest X-ray. 

    Consult your doctor if any of the following occur:

    • A cough that doesn't go away
    • Trouble breathing
    • Chest discomfort
    • Wheezing
    • Streaks of blood in sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs)
    • Hoarseness
    • Loss of appetite
    • Weight loss for no known reason
    • Feeling very tired