Carolinas HealthCare System
Search Health Information   

Lung cancer

Also listed as: Cancer - lung

Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
Who's Most At Risk?
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
 
Treatment Options
Prognosis/Possible Complications
Following Up
Supporting Research

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death, not only in the United States, but also around the world. Lung cancer is responsible for an estimated 160,000 deaths in the United States annually. There are two major types: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, so named because of how the cells look under a microscope. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common, and it generally grows and spreads more slowly. There are three main types of non-small cell lung cancer, named for the type of cells in which the cancer develops: squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer grows more quickly and is more likely to spread to other organs in the body.

Signs and Symptoms

  • A persistent cough that gets worse over time
  • Constant chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
  • Repeated pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Fatigue

What Causes It?

Exposure to carcinogens (cancer causing agents) damages DNA in the cells of the body.  The major cause of lung cancer is cigarette smoking. Other contributing factors include environmental tobacco smoke, occupational exposure to carcinogens, and diet.

Who's Most At Risk?

Tobacco smoke is the biggest carcinogen, responsible for 85% of all lung cancers in the United States. Risk increases with the amount of tobacco used, and the amount of time it has been used. Non smokers exposed to tobacco smoke are also at risk of developing lung cancer. Other forms of tobacco use, such as cigar smoking and pipe smoking, are also associated with lung cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • Family history
  • Environmental and occupational exposure to certain substances, including arsenic, asbestos, ether, chromium, silica, cadmium, nickel, and radon
  • Exposure to excessive radiation (wartime or industrial exposure, or radiotherapy to the chest)
  • Lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Poor diet (however, diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce risk)

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

If you are having symptoms associated with lung cancer, see your health care provider. Your health care provider will evaluate your medical history, smoking history, exposure to environmental and occupational substances, and family history of cancer. You will also have a physical exam. Physicians may also analyze your breath to determine if you have lung cancer.

You may be sent for a chest x-ray and other tests. These include a sputum cytology, the microscopic examination of cells obtained from a deep cough sample of mucus in the lungs. In some cases, your doctor may order a computed tomography (CT) scan.  Research suggests these scans may reduce deaths from lung cancer by 20%.  A biopsy -- the removal of a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist -- can confirm whether you have cancer.

If you have cancer, your health care provider will want to learn the stage (or extent) of the disease to find out whether the cancer has spread, particularly to the brain or bones, using tests such as CT scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), radionuclide scan, positron emission tomography, and bone scan.

Treatment Options

Prevention

The best means of prevention is never start smoking or chewing tobacco, or to stop using tobacco products. A healthy diet is also an important part of prevention.

Treatment Plan

A treatment plan depends on the cell type, stage of disease, possibility for removing the tumor, and the patient's ability to survive surgery.

Drug Therapies

Various therapies can treat lung cancer.

  • Chemotherapy can control cancer growth and relieve symptoms.
  • Photodynamic therapy involves injecting a chemical into the bloodstream, which is absorbed by cells all over the body, including cancer cells. A laser light activates the chemical, which then kills the cancer cells. Photodynamic therapy may be used to control bleeding, relieve breathing problems, or to treat very small tumors.

Surgical and Other Procedures

Surgery is the only treatment capable of curing non-small cell lung cancer. Removal of a small part of the lung is a segmental or wedge resection, removal of an entire lobe of the lung is a lobectomy, and removal of an entire lung is a pneumonectomy. Radiation therapy is used before surgery to shrink a tumor, or after surgery to destroy remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy may also be used instead of surgery, or it may be used to relieve symptoms such as shortness of breath.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

A comprehensive treatment plan for lung cancer may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies. Ask your team of health care providers about the best ways to incorporate these therapies into your overall treatment plan. Always tell your health care provider about the herbs and supplements you are taking.

Nutrition and Supplements

These nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:

  • Try to eliminate suspected food allergens, such as dairy (milk, cheese, and ice cream), wheat (gluten), soy, corn, preservatives, and chemical food additives. Your health care provider may want to test you for food allergies.
  • Eat foods high in B-vitamins and iron, such as whole grains (if no allergy), dark leafy greens (such as spinach and kale), and sea vegetables.
  • Eat antioxidant rich foods, including fruits (such as blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes) and vegetables (such as squash and bell pepper).  Low concentrations of vitamins A, C, and E have been associated with development of lung cancer.
  • Avoid refined foods, such as white breads, pastas, and sugar.
  • You should use quality protein sources, such as organic meat and eggs, whey, (if no dairy allergies are present) and vegetable protein shakes as part of a balanced program aimed at gaining muscle mass and preventing wasting, which can sometimes be a side effect of cancer therapies.
  • Use healthy cooking oils, such as olive oil or coconut oil. Avoid cooking oils at high temperatures, as carcinogens may form. 
  • Reduce or eliminate trans fatty acids, found in such commercially baked goods as cookies, crackers, cakes, French fries, onion rings, donuts, processed foods, and margarine.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants, alcohol, and tobacco.
  • Exercise lightly, if possible. Speak to your doctor to determine the best regimen for you.

You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:

  • Probiotic supplement (containing Lactobacillus acidophilus), 5 - 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) a day, for maintenance of gastrointestinal and immune health. Some probiotic supplements may need refrigeration. Check the label. Probiotics may not be appropriate for people who are severely immunocompromised. Speak with your physician.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, 1 - 2 capsules or 1 tbsp. of oil 1 - 2 times daily, to help reduce inflammation and enhance immunity. Fish oils may increase bleeding in sensitive individuals, such as those taking blood thinning medications (including aspirin).
  • Melatonin, 2 - 6 mg at bedtime, for immune support and sleep. Higher doses may be beneficial in lung cancer, so check with your health care provider. Melatonin can interfere with many medications, including sedatives, antidepressants, birth control, and others.

Herbs

Herbs may be an important part of an integrated cancer care strategy, but they should only be prescribed by a knowledgeable practitioner who is collaborating with all of your physicians.

Homeopathy

Although few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider the following remedies for the treatment of gastritis symptoms (such as nausea and vomiting) based on their knowledge and experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account your constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for you as an individual.

An experienced homeopath may prescribe a regimen to support general health during lung cancer. Acute remedies may be useful to relieve symptoms associated with complications.

Homeopathy may help reduce symptoms and strengthen overall constitution, reduce the effects of stress during cancer, and also help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.

  • Radium bromatum is specific for radiation poisoning, especially followed by arthritic complaints. Acute dose is 3 - 5 pellets of 12X to 30C every 1 - 4 hours until symptoms are relieved.

Acupuncture

While acupuncture is not used as a treatment for cancer itself, evidence suggests it can be a valuable therapy for cancer related symptoms (particularly nausea and vomiting which often accompany chemotherapy treatment). Studies indicate that acupuncture may help reduce pain and shortness of breath. Acupressure (pressing on rather than needling acupuncture points) has also proved useful in controlling breathlessness. Patients can treat themselves using this technique.

Some acupuncturists prefer to work with a patient only after the completion of conventional medical cancer therapy. Others will provide acupuncture or herbal therapy during active chemotherapy or radiation. Acupuncturists treat cancer patients based on an individualized assessment of the excesses and deficiencies of qi located in various meridians. In many cases of cancer related symptoms, a qi deficiency is usually detected in the spleen or kidney meridians.

Prognosis/Possible Complications

The outlook varies by cell type and stage of the disease. In general, the prognosis is better for squamous cell cancers than for adenocarcinomas. Early detection improves chances of survival.

Following Up

Periodic follow up is useful to help to detect recurrence of the lung cancer or other smoking-related cancers. Frequent follow up and rehabilitation for loss of lung function from cancer, surgery, or other treatment may be necessary.

Supporting Research

Aberle Dr, Adams AM, Berg CD, Black WC, Clapp JD, Fagerstrom RM, et al. Reduced lung-cancer mortality with low-dose computed tomographic screening. N Engl J Med. 2011;365(5):395-409.

Alberg AJ, Nonemaker J. Who is at high risk for lung cancer? Population-level and individual-level perspectives. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2008:29(3):223-32.

Bast A, Haenen GR. Lipoic acid: a multifunctional antioxidant. Biofactors. 2003;17(1-4):207-13.

Bauer JD, Capra S. Nutrition intervention improves outcomes in patients with cancer cachexia receiving chemotherapy -- a pilot study. Support Care Cancer. 2005;13(4):270-4.

Baur JA, Sinclair DA. Therapeutic potential of resveratrol: the in vivo evidence. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2006;5(6):493-506.

Cabrera C, Artacho R, Gimenez R. Beneficial effects of green tea -- a review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2006;25(2):79-99.

Chan HP, Lewis C, Thomas PS. Exhaled breath analysis: novel approach for early detection of lung cancer. Lung Cancer. 2009;63(2):164-8.

Cross AJ, Leitzmann MF, Gail MH, et al. A prospective study of red and processed meat intake in relation to cancer risk. PLoS Med. 2007;4(12):e325.

de Torres JP, Marin JM, Casanova C, Cote C, Carrizo S, Cordoba-Lanus E, et al. Lung cancer in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease--incidence and predicting factors. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2011;184(8):913-9.

Dela Cruz C, Tanoue L, Matthay R. Lung Cancer: Epidemiology, Etiology, and Prevention. Clinics in Chest Medicine. W.B. Saunders. Philadelphia, PA: 2011;32(4).

Doron S, Gorbach SL. Probiotics: their role in the treatment and prevention of disease. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2006;4(2):261-75.

Dryden GW Jr, Deaciuc I, Arteel G, McClain CJ. Clinical implications of oxidative stress and antioxidant therapy. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2005;7(4):308-16.

Goldman. Goldman's Cecil Medicine, 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2011.

Horvath I, Lazar Z, Gyulai N, Kollai M, Losonczy G. Exhaled biomarkers in lung cancer. Eur Respir J. 2009;34(1):261-75.

Jett JR, Midthun DE. Screening for lung cancer: for patients at increased risk for lung cancer, it works. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(8):540-2.

Labinskyy N, Csiszar A, Veress G, et al. Vascular dysfunction in aging: potential effects of resveratrol, an anti-inflammatory phytoestrogen. Curr Med Chem. 2006;13(9):989-96.

Lichtenstein AH, Russell RM. Essential nutrients: food or supplements? Where should the emphasis be? JAMA. 2005;294(3):351-8.

Lis CG, Cambron JA, Grutsch JF, et al. Self-reported quality of life in users and nonusers of dietary supplements in cancer. Support Care Cancer. 2006;14(2):193-9.

Lissoni P, Rovelli F, Malugani F, et al. Anti-angiogenic activity of melatonin in advanced cancer patients. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2001;22(1):45-7.

MacLean CH, Newberry SJ, Mojica WA, et al. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cancer risk: a systematic review. JAMA. 2006;295(4):403-15. Review.

McWilliams A, Lam B, Sutedja T. Early proximal lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. Eur Respir J. 2009;33(3):656-65.

Miller MF, Bellizzi KM, Sufian M, et al. Dietary supplement use in individuals living with cancer and other chronic conditions: a population-based study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(3):483-94.

Molina JR, Yang P, Cassivi SD, Schild SE, Adjei AA. Non-small cell lung cancer: epidemiology, risk factors, treatment, and survivorship. Mayo Clin Proc. 2008;83(5):584-94.

Punturieri A, Szabo E, Croxton TL, Shapiro SD, Dubinett SM. Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: needs and opportunities for integrated research. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2009;101(8):554-9.

Rotsein OD. Oxidants and antioxidant therapy. Crit Care Clin. 2001;17(1):239-47.

Slatore CG, Littman AJ, Au DH, Satia JA, White E. Long-term use of supplemental multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate does not reduce the risk of lung cancer. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2008;177(5):524-30.

Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002;21(6):495-505.

Suvatne J, Browning R. Asbestos and Lung Cancer. Disease-a-Month. Mosby; Philadelphia, PA: 2011;57(1).

Tang NP, Zhou B, Wang B, Yu RB, Ma J. Flavonoids intake and risk of lung cancer: a meta-analysis. Jpn J Clin Oncol. 2009;39(6):352-9.

Velicer CM, Ulrich CM. Vitamin and mineral supplement use among US adults after cancer diagnosis: a systematic review. J Clin Oncol. 2008 1;26(4):665-73.

Yoon JH, Baek SJ. Molecular targets of dietary polyphenols with anti-inflammatory properties. Yonsei Med J. 2005;46(5):585-96.


Review Date: 6/5/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com
RELATED INFORMATION
Conditions with Similar Symptoms
View Conditions
Herbs
Burdock
Evening primrose oil
Ginkgo biloba
Lobelia
Slippery elm
Supplements
Bromelain
Carnitine (L-carnitine)
Coenzyme Q10
Cysteine
Melatonin
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids
Quercetin
Selenium
Vitamin A (Retinol)
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
Vitamin E
Learn More About
Acupuncture
Herbal medicine
Homeopathy
Nutrition
About Carolinas HealthCare System
Who We Are
Leadership
Community Benefit
Corporate Financial Information
Diversity & Inclusion
Annual Report
Foundation
Patient Links
Pay Your Bill
Hospital Pre-Registration
Patient Rights
Privacy Policy
Financial Assistance
Quality & Value Reports
Insurance
Careers
Join Carolinas HealthCare System
Physician Careers

For Employees
Carolinas Connect
Connect with Us
Watch Carolinas HealthCare on YoutubeFollow Carolinas HealthCare on TwitterLike Carolinas HealthCare on FacebookContact Carolinas HealthCareJoin Carolinas HealthCare on LinkedInGo to our mobile website.