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Introduction

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is a common cancer of the respiratory system that occurs when there is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the air passages of the lung. Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in both men and women, according to the National Institutes of Health (Source: NIH).

Women who have never smoked may be more at risk for lung cancer than men who have never smoked. In fact, 47% of cases of lung cancer occur in women, and one in five women with lung cancer has never smoked. In contrast, only one in 10 men with lung cancer has never smoked, according to the National Lung Cancer Partnership (Source: NLCP).

Normally, cells in the lung that are old or damaged will stop dividing and die. These cells are replaced by healthy young cells. Lung cancer occurs when old or damaged cells continue to divide and multiply uncontrollably. These abnormal cells eventually develop into a malignant mass of tissue (tumor) and crowd out and destroy healthy cells in the lungs.  

If left untreated, lung cancer cells continue to multiply and spread to other parts of the body—a process called metastasis. As cancer progresses, it interferes with vital processes and functions of the lungs and other organs where it has spread.

Lung cancer often leads to life-threatening complications and is fatal in most cases. Seeking regular medical care offers the best chances of discovering lung cancer in its earliest, most curable stage. If you have lung cancer, following your treatment plan may help reduce your risk of some complications of lung cancer. Lung cancer is a highly preventable cancer because the majority of cases are caused by smoking. Quitting smoking greatly reduces your risk of lung cancer. Diagnosing lung cancer in its earliest stage provides the best hope for successful treatment and a cure.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 6, 2013

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