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Lung Cancer Facts and Types

Our Approach

Oncologist George Simon, M.D., FACP, FCCP, examines one of his patients. Dr. Simon specializes in targeted
therapies to improve outcomes for patients with small cell and non-small cell lung cancers.

From diagnosis through treatment and follow-up, MD Anderson's Thoracic Center gives you comprehensive lung cancer care every step of the way. Some of the nation's top lung cancer experts focus their extraordinary expertise on you. They work together closely to ensure you receive the most advanced personalized care with the least impact on your body.

And our experts have at their fingertips the latest cutting-edge technology and techniques to treat lung cancer, including:

  • Minimally invasive surgery
  • Innovative radiotherapy planning and delivery techniques
  • One of the few proton therapy centers in the country with experience treating lung cancer
  • A wide range of clinical trials for all stages and types of lung cancer

Because your peace of mind is important to us, we specialize in techniques and therapies than can help preserve lung function.
We're often able to offer hope for lung cancer that elsewhere might be considered inoperable, and we've developed special techniques for treating cancers that have invaded the spinal column.

Leading-edge Research

MD Anderson is proud to be one of the few cancer centers in the nation to house a prestigious federally funded lung cancer SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) program. As one of the world's largest cancer research centers, MD Anderson is leading the investigation into new methods of lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. Each patient benefits from the most advanced research, delivered as rapidly as possible.

MD Anderson has helped advance the treatment of lung cancer in many areas. Our research has helped:

  • Demonstrate the effectiveness of paclitaxel (Taxol) for certain types of lung cancer
  • Pioneer neoadjuvant (before surgery) chemotherapy
  • Identify gene variants that influence lung cancer risk
  • Discover nanoparticles that deliver drugs to lung cancer that is resistant to treatment
  • Establish activity of novel biologic therapies that target specific types of tumors
  • Develop four-dimensional simulation techniques to target lung cancer
  • Pioneer ways to reduce damage to normal tissue during proton therapy and IMRT
  • Discover a way to combine chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat lung cancer

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, we're here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Latest, most-advanced lung cancer treatments including delivery of chemotherapy by nanoparticles, minimally invasive surgical techniques, targeted therapies and gene therapies
  • Leading-edge radiotherapy approaches including proton therapy, intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and stereotactic radiotherapy
  • Focus on saving lung function and reducing damage to healthy tissue
  • Nationally recognized lung cancer research program, range of clinical trials
  • Lung cancer is part of MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program: an ambitious effort to reduce cancer deaths through the rapid discovery of new treatments

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Fe Crawford

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Lung Cancer Facts

Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in both men and women in this country. According to the American Cancer Society, almost 220,000 people are diagnosed with it each year. Most cases are linked to tobacco smoking.

The lungs, which help you breathe, are two sponge-like, cone-shaped organs in the chest. When you breathe in, oxygen comes through your mouth and nose. It then travels through the windpipe (trachea), which divides into two tubes called bronchi. These take the oxygen to the left and right lungs. The inside of the lungs includes smaller branches called bronchioles and alveoli, which are tiny air sacs.

Each lung is divided into sections called lobes. The right lung has three lobes. The left lung, which has two lobes, is smaller than the right lung because the heart is also on the left side of the body.

The pleura is a thin membrane that covers the outside of each lung and lines the inside wall of the chest. It usually contains a small amount of fluid and forms a protective lining around the lungs that allows them to move smoothly during breathing.

Cancer Grows in Lungs, May Spread

Lung cancer forms in the tissues of the lungs, most often in the cells that line air passages. It occurs when cells in your lungs grow and multiply uncontrollably, damaging surrounding tissue and interfering with the lungs’ normal function.

Lung cancer may spread through your lymph system. Lymph is a clear fluid that contains tissue waste and cells that help fight infection. It travels through your body in vessels that are similar to veins. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs that link lymph vessels.

Cancer cells can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of your body through the bloodstream as well. When lung cancer spreads to other organs, it still is called lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Types

Lung cancer is classified by the type of cells within the tumor. Each type of lung cancer grows and is treated in a different way. Lung cancers are divided into two main groups.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): This is the most common type of lung cancer. The categories of non-small cell lung cancer are named for the type of cells in the cancer:

  • Adenocarcinoma begins in cells that line the alveoli and make mucus. It is found more often in nonsmokers, women and younger people.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (cancer) begins in thin, flat cells in the lungs, and tobacco smoking most often causes it. It also is called epidermoid carcinoma.
  • Large cell carcinoma (cancer) begins in certain types of large cells in the lungs.

Small cell lung cancer: Also known as oat-cell cancer, this type of lung cancer makes up less than 20% of lung cancers and almost always is caused by tobacco smoking. It often starts in the bronchi, then quickly grows and spreads to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes.

Other types of lung cancer

Less common types of lung cancer include:

Lung metastases

Cancer found in the lungs is sometimes another type of cancer that started somewhere else in the body and spread, or metastasized, to the lungs. These tumors are called lung metastases, and they are not the same as lung cancer. They usually are the primary, or original, type of cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, we’re here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center