Primary lung cancer forms in the lungs, a pair of large organs in your chest that are part of your respiratory system.
When air enters your body through your nose or mouth, it passes through your windpipe (trachea), into your bronchi (large air tubes that begin at the end of the trachea), and then into your lungs.
Each time you breathe in, your lungs expand with air and remove the oxygen, so your blood can transport this life-giving gas throughout your body.
At the same time, your lungs also remove a gas called carbon dioxide from your blood. Carbon dioxide is produced when your body breaks down sugars, fats and amino acids to use for energy. When you breathe out, you exhale carbon dioxide.
Lung cancer usually forms when the cells lining the air passages begin growing abnormally. Doctors diagnose the type of lung cancer based on how the cells look under a microscope.
There are two main types: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.
- Small Cell: This type of lung cancer affects about 1 out of every 8 people with lung cancer. The cells of small cell cancer appear smaller than most other cells.
- Non-small Cell: Most people diagnosed with lung cancer (about 7 out of every 8) have non-small cell lung cancer, which doesn't grow and spread as fast as small cell lung cancer.
Detecting cancer early can improve treatment outcomes. Researchers are working on developing the following screening methods for early detection:
- Chest X-rays
- Sputum tests (mucus brought up from the lungs by coughing)
- Spiral (helical) computed tomography (CT) scans (imaging tests that use low-dose radiation to look inside the lungs)
To date, neither chest X-rays nor sputum tests have been shown to be effective for lung cancer screening. However, screening with low-dose spiral CT scans has been shown to decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer in people who are heavy smokers.
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For information on current lung cancer clinical research programs, please visit The Jordan Research and Education Institute (REDI).