Cancer by the Numbers: Lung Cancer

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lung cancerby Jacki Donaldson, The Cancer Blog

In 2006, 174,470 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States. About 92,700 men and 81,770 women will develop the disease -- the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women.

An estimated 162,460 men and women will die of lung cancer this year, accounting for 28 percent of all cancer deaths and taking more lives than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. While most people diagnosed with lung cancer will die within the first two years of diagnosis -- this has not changed in 10 years -- some people are cured. There are currently about 333,000 long-term survivors.

Lung cancer -- the most preventable of all cancers -- typically occurs in the elderly. Nearly 70 percent of people diagnosed with the disease are older than 65. Fewer than three percent are under the age of 45.

Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs. While normal healthy tissue cells reproduce and develop into healthy lung tissue, abnormal cells reproduce rapidly and never grow into normal lung tissue. Lumps of cancer tissue -- tumors -- then form and disrupt the function of the lung.

There are two different types of lung cancer. Small-cell lung cancers make up one quarter of all cases. This cancer grows fast and quickly spreads to other organs. Non-small-cell lung cancer -- squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large-cell carcinoma -- is the most common type of lung cancer.

A diagnosis of lung cancer typically results because a growing tumor causes symptoms to appear -- symptoms like a persistent cough, constant chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, hoarseness, recurring pneumonia or bronchitis, coughing up blood, unexplained fatigue, swelling and redness of the neck and face, and loss of appetite and weight. By the time these symptoms surface, the cancer cannot be easily cured. Additional symptoms -- bone pain, numbness in arms and legs, dizziness and seizure, yellowing of skin and eyes, and masses near the surface of the skin -- may indicate the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Early detection is just not possible with lung cancer since symptoms do not appear until the disease is advanced and while a recent controversial study suggests computerized chest scans may work for screening smokers for the disease, diagnosis typically comes too late for long-term survival. So prevention is key and because more than 87 percent of all lung cancer cases are smoking-related, eliminating tobacco use is critical for preventing diagnoses of lung cancer.

Diagnosis of lung cancer typically occurs with chest x-rays, spiral CT scans, MRI, PET scans, and bone scans -- which also help stage the disease. Staging for non-small-cell lung cancer ranges from stage 0 to IV. Staging for small-cell lung cancer is classified as either limited or extensive.

Each type of lung cancer is treated differently but both are treated with a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. New advances -- such as phytodynamic therapy and biologic therapy -- may one day be standard treatment as well.

Lung cancer -- responsible for the recent deaths of Peter Jennings and Dana Reeves -- will receive special attention this month as November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month. To raise your own awareness about this highly deadly yet preventable disease, consider visiting the following sites, home to much of the information shared in this post.

American Cancer Society
Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation
It's Time to Focus on Lung Cancer
Lung Cancer Alliance
Medline Plus
National Cancer Institute

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