8 Facts About Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Seth Ginsberg | Oct 3rd 2012 Jun 27th 2017

Reviewed by: Todd Gersten, MD

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There are two major forms of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer. They’re diagnosed based on differences in cancer cell structure under a microscope. Here are key facts about non-small cell lung cancer, the most common.

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Vast majority of lung cancer cases are non-small cell

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Non-small cell lung cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the tissues of the lung. This type accounts for about 80 percent of all lung cancer cases.

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Types of non-small cell lung cancer

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There are three different types of non-small cell lung cancer. They are:

  • Squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma: Accounts for about one-third of NSCLC cases and usually occurs in smokers.
  • Adenocarcinoma: Accounts for about 35 percent of NSCLC cases and can occur in both smokers and non-smokers.
  • Large cell carcinoma: This is a very aggressive form of NSCLC that grows and spreads rapidly. It accounts for less than 10 percent of NSCLC cases.
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Most patients with early stage lung cancer are asymptomatic

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This means they do not exhibit clinical signs or symptoms of the disease. The absence of clinical signs and symptoms during the early stage of the disease is a major factor that often contributes to a significant delay in diagnosis of the condition.

Source: Medifocus Guidebook

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The three most common symptoms

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There are numerous symptoms of lung cancer, but the most common ones are persistent or worsening cough, shortness of breath (dyspnea), and coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum.

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Quality-of-life issues

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In general, some of the more common problems encountered by cancer patients either as a result of the disease itself or as a side-effect of cancer treatments include:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Fatigue
  • Diminished exercise capacity
  • Unintentonal weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
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Smoking greatly increases a person's risk

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The earlier you begin smoking and the longer you smoke, the greater your risk of developing lung cancer. Other risk factors include family history, secondhand smoke exposure, and air pollution.

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Survival rate varies by stage

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According to data from the National Cancer Institute, the average five-year survival rate for someone with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer is 1 percent. By contrast, the average five-year survival rate for someone with stage 1A non-small cell lung cancer is 49 percent.

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New testing for early detection underway

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Research has shown that doing spiral CT scans and testing sputum samples in people who are at higher risk for lung cancer may be effective in early detection.

NEXT: 9 Ways to Keep Your Airways Clear and Lungs Clean