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Lung Cancer Health Center

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Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information About Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)


Dysplasia and carcinoma in situ are considered the principal premalignant lesions because they are more likely to progress to invasive cancer and less likely to spontaneously regress.

In addition, after resection of a lung cancer, there is a 1% to 2% risk per patient per year that a second lung cancer will occur.[3]


NSCLC is a heterogeneous aggregate of histologies. The most common histologies include the following:

  • Epidermoid or squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Adenocarcinoma.
  • Large cell carcinoma.

These histologies are often classified together because approaches to diagnosis, staging, prognosis, and treatment are similar.

Risk Factors

Several risk factors contribute to the development of lung cancer. These risk factors may include the following:

  • Cigarette, pipe, or cigar smoking.
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke, radon, arsenic, asbestos, chromates, chloromethyl ethers, nickel, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, radon progeny, other agents, and air pollution.[4]
  • Radiation therapy to the breast or chest.

The single most important risk factor for the development of lung cancer is smoking. For smokers, the risk for lung cancer is on average tenfold higher than in lifetime nonsmokers (defined as a person who has smoked <100 cigarettes in his or her lifetime). The risk increases with the quantity of cigarettes, duration of smoking, and starting age.

Smoking cessation results in a decrease in precancerous lesions and a reduction in the risk of developing lung cancer. Former smokers continue to have an elevated risk for lung cancer for years after quitting. Asbestos exposure may exert a synergistic effect of cigarette smoking on the lung cancer risk.[4]


A significant number of patients cured of their smoking-related lung cancer may develop a second malignancy. In the Lung Cancer Study Group trial of 907 patients with stage T1, N0 resected tumors, the rate was 1.8% per year for nonpulmonary second cancers and 1.6% per year for new lung cancers.[5] Other studies have reported even higher risks of second tumors in long-term survivors, including rates of 10% for second lung cancers and 20% for all second cancers.[6]

Because of the persistent risk of developing second lung cancers in former smokers, various chemoprevention strategies have been evaluated in randomized control trials. None of the phase III trials with the agents beta carotene, retinol, 13-cis-retinoic acid, [alpha]-tocopherol, N-acetylcysteine, or acetylsalicylic acid has demonstrated beneficial, reproducible results.[7,8,9,10,11][Level of evidence: 1iiA] Chemoprevention of second primary cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract is undergoing clinical evaluation in patients with early-stage lung cancer.

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