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Lung cancer

Lung cancer is a neoplasia (abnormal growth of some cells, the basic units which form the body's tissues and organs) that originates in the lung cells and has the ability to spread to other organs.

Normal cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When they age or have deteriorated due to time or have suffered damages for whatever reason, they die and are elininated and new cells replace them. At times, this process loses its equilibrium and too many new cells are formed when the body does not need them or if old and damaged cells are not eliminated when they should be.

Smoking causes the majority of lung cancer cases. The more cigarettes you smoke per day and the earlier you started smoking, the greater your risk of lung cancer. High levels of pollution, radiation and asbestos exposure may also increase risk.

Lung tumors can be benign or malignant, depending on the capacity of the tumor cells to spread to other parts of the body. Lung cancer is composed, in the different types that comprise it, by cells that have the capacity to cross different tissues, travel through the blood or lymphatic vessels and grow in other areas (metathesis) which is why it is denominated a malignant tumor.

In general terms, lung cancer is a serious illness that can:

  • Endanger one's life.
  • Invade nearby organs and tissues.
  • Disseminate to other parts of the body.
  • Be removed, but will sometimes grow again.


Common symptoms of lung cancer include

  • A cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time
  • Constant chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
  • Repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Fatigue


The following are risk factors for lung cancer:

  • Cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoking: Tobacco smoking is the most important risk factor for lung cancer. Cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoking all increase the risk of lung cancer. Tobacco smoking causes about 9 out of 10 cases of lung cancer in men and about 8 out of 10 cases of lung cancer in women. Studies have shown that smoking low tar or low nicotine cigarettes does not lower the risk of lung cancer. Studies also show that the risk of lung cancer from smoking cigarettes increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the number of years smoked. People who smoke have about 20 times the risk of lung cancer compared to those who do not smoke.
  • Secondhand smoke: Being exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke is also a risk factor for lung cancer. Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from a burning cigarette or other tobacco product, or that is exhaled by smokers. People who inhale secondhand smoke are exposed to the same cancer -causing agents as smokers, although in smaller amounts. Inhaling secondhand smoke is called involuntary or passive smoking.
  • Family history
  • HIV infection
  • Environmental/professional risk factors: radiation therapy, imaging tests; radon; asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, beryllium, cadmium, tar and soot; air polution
  • Beta carotene supplements in heavy smokers

The following are protective factors for lung cancer:

  • Not smoking: best way to prevent lung cancer; quitting smoking: after 10 years of quitting, the risk of lung cancer diminishes between a 30 - 50%.
  • Lower exposure to workplace and environmental risk factors


It is not clear if the following decrease the risk of lung cancer:

  • Diet
  • Physical activity

Gene or region studied

  • CHRNA3
  • MGMT
  • AGPHD1
  • 6p21.33
  • HNF1A
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