Bronchogenic carcinoma is any type or subtype of lung cancer. The term was once used to describe only certain lung cancers that began in the bronchi and bronchioles, the passageways to the lungs. However, today it refers to any type.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) are the two main types of bronchogenic carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma are all types of NSCLC.
Lung and bronchus cancers are common, accounting for about 13 percent of new cancer cases in the United States.
Early symptoms of bronchogenic carcinoma can be so mild that they don’t ring any alarm bells. Sometimes, symptoms aren’t noticeable until the cancer has spread. These are some of the most common symptoms of lung cancer:
- persistent or worsening cough
- coughing up blood and mucus
- chest pain that gets worse when you take a deep breath, laugh, or cough
- shortness of breath
- weakness, fatigue
- frequent or persistent attacks of bronchitis or pneumonia
Symptoms that cancer has spread may include:
- hip or back pain
- headache, dizziness, or seizures
- numbness in an arm or leg
- yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
- enlarged lymph nodes
- unexplained weight loss
Anybody can get lung cancer. It begins when cells in the lung start to mutate. Instead of dying off as they should, the abnormal cells continue to reproduce and form tumors.
The cause can’t always be determined, but there are a number of factors that can raise your risk of developing lung cancer.
The most common cause is smoking, which is responsible for about 90 percent of lung cancer cases. Quitting smoking can lower your risk. Exposure to secondhand smoke can also raise the risk of developing lung cancer. SCLC is less common than NSCLC, but is almost always due to heavy smoking.
The second most common cause is exposure to radon, a radioactive gas that can come up through soil and into buildings. It’s colorless and odorless, so you won’t know you’re being exposed unless you use a radon test kit.
The risk of lung cancer is even greater if you’re a smoker who is also exposed to radon.
Other causes include:
- breathing in hazardous chemicals such as asbestos, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel, uranium, and some petroleum products
- exposure to exhaust smoke and other particles in the air
- genetics; a family history of lung cancer may place you at higher risk
- previous radiation to the lungs
- exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water
Lung cancer is more common in men, especially African American men, than in women.
Your doctor might want to screen for lung cancer if you’re over age 55, have smoked, or have a family history of lung cancer.
If you have symptoms of lung cancer, there are several tests you doctor might use to help with the diagnosis.
- Imaging tests. X-rays of the chest may help your doctor detect an abnormal mass or nodule. A CT scan of the chest can provide more detail, possibly showing small lesions in the lung that an X-ray might miss.
- Sputum cytology. Samples of mucus are collected after you cough. The samples are then examined under a microscope for evidence of cancer.
- Biopsy. A tissue sample is taken from the suspicious area of your lungs. Your doctor can get the sample using a bronchoscope, a tube passed down the throat to the lungs. Or an incision can be made at the base of your neck to access the lymph nodes. Alternatively, your doctor can insert a needle through the chest wall into the lung to get the sample. A pathologist will examine the sample under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present.
If cancer is detected, the pathologist will also be able to identify which type of lung cancer it is. Then the cancer can be staged. This may require additional testing such as:
- biopsy of other organs with suspicious areas
- imaging tests, such as CT, MRI, PET, or bone scans on other parts of the body
Lung cancer is staged from 1 to 4, depending on how far it’s spread. Staging helps guide treatment and provide more information on what you can expect.
Treatment for lung cancer varies according to the specific type, stage, and your overall health. You may need a combination of treatments, which can include:
When cancer is confined to the lungs, surgery may be an option. If you have a small tumor, that small section of lung, plus a margin around it, can be removed.
During the same surgery, some nearby lymph nodes may also be removed and tested for cancer.
Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. These powerful drugs can destroy cancer cells throughout the body. Some chemotherapy drugs are given intravenously and some can be taken orally. Treatment can last several weeks to many months.
Chemotherapy is sometimes used to shrink tumors before surgery or to destroy any cancer cells remaining after surgery.
Radiation uses high-energy beams to target and destroy cancer cells in a specific area of the body. Therapy can involve daily treatment for several weeks. It can be used to help shrink tumors prior to surgery or to target cancer cells left behind after surgery.
Radiosurgery is a more intense type of radiation treatment that takes fewer sessions. This may be an option if you are not able to have surgery.
Targeted drugs or immunotherapy
Targeted drugs are those that work only for certain genetic mutations or specific types of lung cancer. Immunotherapy drugs help your body’s immune system recognize and fight cancer cells. These treatments may be used for advanced or recurrent lung cancer.
The goal of supportive care is to ease symptoms of lung cancer as well as side effects of treatment. Supportive care, also called palliative care, is used to improve overall quality of life. You can have treatment for the cancer and supportive care at the same time.
Your outlook depends on many factors, such as:
- specific type of lung cancer
- stage at diagnosis
- age and overall health
It’s hard to say how any individual will respond to specific treatments. According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) from the National Cancer Institute, 5-year relative survival rates for lung and bronchus cancers are:
|Cancer spread||Survival rates (5 years)|
This shouldn’t be taken as your prognosis. These are only general figures for all types of lung cancer. Your doctor will be able to provide more information based on details specific to you.
Finding out you have lung cancer is a lot to take in, so you’ll be working closely with doctors who specialize in lung cancer. It’s a good idea to prepare for your next doctor visit so you’ll get the most you can out of it. Here are some things you may want to discuss:
- What type of lung cancer do I have?
- Do you know the stage or do I need more tests to find that out?
- What is the general prognosis?
- What are the best treatment options for me and what are the goals of each treatment?
- What are the potential side effects and how can they be treated?
- Should I have a palliative care doctor for symptoms?
- Do I qualify for any clinical trials?
- Where can I find reliable information so I can learn more?
You might also want to consider joining a lung cancer support group. Here are few ways to find the right one for you:
- Ask your oncologist, primary care physician, or local hospital.
- Look online for support programs and services.
- Connect with lung cancer survivors.
- The National Lung Cancer Support Group Network provides support for survivors and caregivers.
Whether online or in person, support groups can connect you with other people in similar circumstances. Members give and get help by sharing useful information about living with cancer, caring for someone with cancer, and the feelings that go along with it.