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Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer

What Is Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)?

Most people who have lung cancer have NSCLC. Although it's serious, treatment can sometimes cure it or stop it from getting worse. And there are things you can do to help you feel better, too.

People who smoke or who breathe in a lot of smoke are most likely to get NSCLC. Many of them are over 65.

NSCLC has three kinds of tumors:

Adenocarcinoma starts in cells in your air sacs that make mucus and other substances, often in the outer parts of your lungs. It's the most common kind of lung cancer among both smokers and nonsmokers and people under 45. It often grows more slowly than other lung cancers.

Squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma starts in cells that line the inner airways of the lungs. About a quarter of lung cancers are this kind.

Large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma grows and spreads more quickly. That can make it tougher to treat. It's about 10% to 15% of lung cancers.

The treatments your doctor suggests will depend on how far your cancer has spread.


Doctors aren't sure exactly what causes this disease. But many people who get it have smoked or been around smoke. Other things that make lung cancer more likely are:

  • Radon, a radioactive gas found naturally in soil and rocks
  • Asbestos
  • Mineral and metal dust
  • Air pollution
  • Radiation treatment to your chest or breast

It can also be passed down in families.


You may not notice symptoms in the early stages. Or you might mistake them for another illness, such as pneumonia or a collapsed lung.

Like other types of lung cancer, symptoms can include:

  • Coughing that lasts or gets worse
  • Chest pain that often hurts more with coughing, laughing, or deep breaths
  • Hoarseness or voice changes
  • Harsh, raspy sounds when you breathe
  • Wheezing
  • Weight loss, little appetite
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Lasting lung problems, like bronchitis or pneumonia

If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, you may have:

  • Bone pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Numbness or weakness in an arm or leg
  • Yellow skin or eyes

Getting a Diagnosis

First, your doctor will talk with you so he understands what's been going on. He'll ask questions like:

  • When did you first notice problems?
  • How have you been feeling?
  • Are you coughing or wheezing?
  • Does anything make your symptoms better or worse?
  • Do you, or did you, smoke?
  • Has anyone in your family had lung cancer?

He'll also give you a physical exam. You might need tests, too.

Imaging tests help your doctor find tumors inside your lungs. They can also show whether the cancer has spread.

  • X-rays use low doses of radiation to make images of structures inside your body.
  • MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, shows blood flow, organs, and structures.
  • Ultrasound creates a picture by bouncing sound waves off tissues inside you.
  • PET scans use a radioactive compound or tracer that collects where your cells are very active.
  • CT scans are powerful X-rays that make detailed pictures of the tissue and the blood vessels in the lung.
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