Lung cancer: what is it, symptoms, treatment, is it curable?

According to the National Cancer Institute (INCA), lung cancer is the second most common type of disease in the whole of Brazil (behind only non- melanoma skin cancer ).

Since the end of the 20th century, the disease has been a major cause of preventable deaths worldwide. Currently, the estimate for Brazil is that about 28 thousand new cases of lung cancer emerge each year.

In this text, we will explain more about it. It is worth remembering that in case of doubts, the ideal is to consult the medical team that accompanies your case.


What is lung cancer?

Cancer is the growth and reproduction of malignant cells, which when joined together form a tumor. When this happens in the lung (either inside or outside), this condition is called lung cancer, which is one of the most common malignant tumors.

Let’s explain it better: when healthy cells are exposed to or risk factors, they can undergo a genetic mutation.

These contaminated cells will grow and reproduce quickly and disorderly, which will cause the new cells to become contaminated as well. When they join, these same diseased cells form a tumor (cancer).

If these malignant cells “travel” to other parts of the body, they can reproduce in this new location and generate other tumors (metastasis).

Lung cancer is one of the most serious, since, little by little, it can compromise the person’s breathing and thus lead them easily to death.

The main risk factor for the development of lung cancer is smoking .

Those who smoke are 4 times more likely to have the disease than those who have never swallowed. In addition, the chance of smokers dying from this disease is 15 times greater compared to non-smokers.

But the disease can also be caused by other factors such as genetics and frequent exposure to toxic chemicals (such as pesticides and heavy metals), in addition to pollution.

What are the stages of lung cancer?

This disease is divided into 4 stages, with the 4th indicating that the disease is more widespread. Learn a little more about each of them:

Stage 1

At this stage, the tumor is small (measuring at most 3 cm). In the vast majority of cases, the tumor is still located in its place of origin and the best form of treatment is surgical removal.

Stage 2

Being in stage 2 of the disease means that the tumor is growing and has chances of traveling to the rest of the body, first reaching the nearest organs and tissues.

In most cases, surgery must be accompanied by chemotherapy to prevent the progression of the cancer cell.

Stage 3

The third stage of lung cancer is when the tumor is advanced and bulky. Here, surgery is no longer an option, because you will not be able to handle it alone.

Therefore, it will be necessary to do other forms of treatment such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Stage 4

This is the most serious stage of the disease. The tumor has already spread to other parts of the body, and can even reach the bones or the brain.

In this phase, it is common for tumor heterogeneity to occur, that is, when the malignant cells mutated and ended up becoming different.

This makes treatment very difficult because the same medicine will not work on all of them.

Surgeries and some treatments aim, in general, to control the symptoms. Thus, radio and chemotherapy will still be applied, but less frequently. However, immunotherapy resources, a new type of therapy, have brought new perspectives to these cases.

Hot chilli pepper can prevent lung cancer metastasis

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Do you have an ICD?

One of the purposes of the World Health Organization (WHO) is to collect data and monitor the occurrence of diseases around the world.

Thus, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) was created, which standardizes the diseases, symptoms and external causes that lead to the appearance of each disease.

Currently, lung cancer is classified in ICD-10 as C 34, with the following subclassifications:

  • C34: Malignant neoplasm of bronchi and lungs;
  • C34.0: Malignant neoplasm of the main bronchus;
  • C34.1: Malignant neoplasm of upper lobe, bronchus or lung;
  • C34.2: Malignant neoplasm of middle lobe, bronchus or lung;
  • C34.3: Malignant neoplasm of lower lobe, bronchus or lung;
  • C34.8: Malignant neoplasm of bronchi and lungs with invasive lesion;
  • C34.9: Malignant neoplasm of bronchi or lungs, unspecified

Types: what is the most common lung cancer?

Basically, lung cancer is divided into 2 types. Between 10% and 15% of cases correspond to small cell lung cancer. The rest of the patients, on the other hand, are affected by non-small cell cancer. Each of these types has different forms of development and treatment.

Learn more about these two types of lung cancer:

Small cell lung cancer

This type of lung cancer affects the central airways and is the most aggressive with great potential to lead the disease to metastatic stages.

Non-small cell lung cancer

Unlike small cell lung cancer, non-small cell cancer manifests itself mainly in epithelial (tissue) cells.

This type of lung cancer is subdivided into 3 categories:

  • Adenocarcinoma: the beginning of this type of tumor is in the cells that line the alveoli;
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: this tumor develops in epideimoid cells, which line the inside of the airways;
  • Large cell carcinoma: it can appear anywhere in the lung and its growth is rapid.

Childhood lung cancer

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In the vast majority of cases where a child is diagnosed with lung cancer, the disease is due to a metastasis caused by other types of cancer. Between them:

  • Osteosarcoma (cancer inside the bones);
  • Nephroblastoma (kidney cancer that mostly affects children);
  • Hepatoblastoma (liver cancer, very common in children under 3 years old).

Therefore, pediatric patients with these diseases must be closely monitored by the medical team to prevent cancer cells (sick) from spreading and causing other tumors.

Fortunately, the good news is that children are more likely to recover from all types of cancer, including lung cancer.

That’s because healthy cells are younger than adult cells. This allows the body to function better and recover more easily.

According to data from the National Cancer Institute (INCA), about 80% of children with cancer (of all types) are able to heal if they are treated early.

What is metastatic lung cancer?

Metastasis happens when the diseased cells spread to other parts of the body.

This is because when the tumor grows, it ends up reaching a blood or lymphatic vessel. Then, new diseased cells are released and move through the blood, until they stagnate somewhere and start growing again.

Although metastasis can happen with any type of spread cancer, lung cancer is usually the result of metastasis from other cancers, such as tumors that originate in the breast or bladder.

What causes lung cancer?

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The main cause of lung cancer is smoking. It accounts for about 85% of diagnosed cases of the disease. Another risk factor related to lung cancer is passive smoking (when the person does not smoke, but lives with smokers and, thus, also ends up breathing the smoke).

People who smoke frequently, or have quit smoking less than 15 years ago, are considered to be at high risk for the development of the disease.

But cigarette smoking is not the only risk factor for the development of lung cancer. Know other reasons that can lead to the development of the tumor:

  • Age (be between 50 and 70 years old);
  • Frequent exposure to toxic substances (such as radon, silica, beryllium, chromium, cadmium, alkylating agents, uranium, nickel, asbestos, arsenic, etc.);
  • Frequent consumption of water contaminated with any of these materials;
  • Work related to the conservation, maintenance, manufacture or cleaning of leather (tannery);
  • Coexistence or work in aluminum and other metals, nuclear, rubber, plaster, cement, fertilizers, glass, paper industries;
  • Family history of cancer;
  • Frequent exposure to air pollution;
  • Deficiencies or excess of vitamins in the body;
  • Having lung infections (such as bronchitis) over and over again.

Who doesn’t smoke can get lung cancer?

Yes, those who are not active smokers can also develop lung cancer (although this only happens in 15% of cases in which the disease is diagnosed). In these cases, the disease is usually caused by other factors, such as frequent exposure to materials that are aggressive to lung health.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also considers that environmental pollution (mainly in large urban centers like São Paulo) is one of the main causes of this disease.

But lung cancer in nonsmokers has some peculiar characteristics. One is that the disease usually tends to be discovered in more advanced stages.

This is because the symptoms of cancer are very common, causing lung cancer to be confused with other diseases (such as pneumonia ), which can delay the diagnosis.

Thus, it is possible that the person will be without adequate treatment for months, which consequently implies that there will be no definitive improvement.

So, when medical professionals suspect cancer and request a diagnosis, there is more chance that the disease is already at an advanced or even metastatic degree (when the disease has already spread to other parts of the body).

Another feature of lung cancer in people who have never smoked is age. These patients tend to be younger than smokers diagnosed with such a disease.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

The symptoms of lung cancer depend on the stage of the disease. In mild degrees, there are usually no symptoms. Already in moderate stages, they are cough , tiredness , weakness, chest pain, shortness of breath, loss of body weight and fever . 

The patient may also experience hoarseness, feeling sick, loss of appetite and pain in other parts of the body (head or back, for example).

As the disease progresses, other signs such as presence of blood in the phlegm, recurrent bronchitis or pneumonia and blood loss may be noticed.

Find out a little more about the main symptoms of this disease and, in case of suspicion, look for a pulmonologist.


Coughing is a natural defense system to unblock the airways from phlegm or foreign agents.

In the case of lung cancer, it can be accompanied by bleeding or not, and it is usually dry.

In non- smoking patients , coughing is a red alert if it lasts more than 3 weeks without improving.

If the person is a smoker, the frequency and intensity tend to be worse and worse as the disease progresses, making the coughing crises chronic.


Tiredness can be a sign that something is wrong when it doesn’t pass and doesn’t alleviate after rest.

For example, when someone is tired but healthy, a few hours of rest is enough to improve their condition and recover their energy.

In the case of cancer, this symptom manifests itself in this way: even if the person rests, he will always have the feeling of tiredness and weakness.

These signs may be the result of other factors such as blood loss that tends to leave the person with fatigue .

Commonly, extreme tiredness is a symptom that manifests itself while the tumor is still developing.

Weight loss

Weight loss can be a sign of cancer when it is involuntary (when the person has done nothing to lose weight) and significant.

For example, losing 10 pounds or more quickly and without the aid of diet or exercise can be a symptom of cancer or other illnesses.

Blood loss

Blood loss is a symptom in all types of cancer.

In the case of lung cancer, it is common for blood to be present when the patient coughs, sneezes or blows his nose in more aggravated situations of the disease.


Elevated temperature is another symptom that commonly manifests itself when the cancer is already in a metastatic state, that is, spread in other organs and tissues.

Does lung cancer hurt?

It depends on each case. In most situations, pain is an indication that the disease has already grown and possibly spread to other parts of the body.

Generally, tumors in the initial stage do not cause any type of pain, which makes it difficult for the patient to perceive that there is something wrong.

What can trigger pain in the early stages of the disease are other symptoms such as coughing and vomiting.

But, when it occurs, the most common places in which patients complain of pain are: chest, back, head and joints.

How do I know I have lung cancer?

First of all, it is worth mentioning that only the medical professional, with the help of appropriate exams, will be able to make an accurate and correct diagnosis of the existence or not of lung cancer.

The patient, however, has the duty to seek the assistance of this professional when he / she manifests the symptoms of the disease, which may include nasal bleeding with coughing spells, chest pains, hoarseness, difficulty breathing and recurrent fever.

How is the diagnosis made?

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The diagnosis of lung cancer begins when the medical professional suspects this disease, according to the patient’s report and the symptoms presented.

When this suspicion is raised, it is likely that a referral to a pulmonologist will be made.

The most common way to diagnose lung cancer is a combination of 2 imaging tests, such as chest X -ray and computed tomography.

Depending on the outcome of this first assessment, others may be requested:


Bronchoscopy can also be called respiratory endoscopy. This examination allows you to see the patient’s tracheobronchial tree and determine how advanced the tumor is.


A biopsy is an exam that consists of removing a small piece of the possible tumor. This small part is removed with a needle and will be analyzed in the laboratory to detect whether it is benign or malignant.

It is also possible to perform a biopsy to confirm the result of other tests (imaging, for example).


Staging is done after a confirmed cancer diagnosis. It can be used for all types of this disease.

Its main function is to detect whether the disease has already spread to other parts of the body (metastasis) and how severe this spread is.

What is the chance of a cure for lung cancer?

Factors such as the type of treatment, stage of the disease and age can influence the chances of a cure for lung cancer. What is known is that the earlier the diagnosis and the proper treatment started, the greater the chances of a cure.

After diagnosis, the life expectancy of a person with cancer varies between 7 months and 5 years, if it is not cured.

In the milder cases of the disease or when the tumor is still small, there is more chance of cure, although in almost half of the cases metastasis occurs.

In some more severe cases of the disease (especially when the cancer is completely widespread or the person does not respond to treatment), it is common for the medical team to recommend only palliative care to bring more comfort and reduce the patient’s pain.

In these situations, there is no more hope for a cure.

That is, the chances of a cure are related to the severity of the disease. 

And after the cure?

Who has a medical report that proves the cure of lung cancer (especially if the method of treatment was surgical) should continue to do intensive monitoring.

This monitoring is essential to monitor the appearance of another cancer or other diseases, since the organism is fragile and vulnerable.

At first, it may be necessary to make monthly appointments, in addition to strictly following medical recommendations.

After some time, medical visits tend to happen every 3 or 4 months, depending on the patient’s improvement.

If all goes well, about 5 years after the cure, the routine medical consultation can only be done once a year.

What are the treatment options?

The ideal type of treatment for each case will be decided by the medical team, which may choose to undergo surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of all these resources.

Learn a little more about the main types of lung cancer treatment:


Surgery is used in mild cases or when the tumor is discovered early. Thus, it is still possible to remove it with a surgical procedure.

If the disease is in critical situations, it is more likely that other forms of treatment are the medical recommendation.


In chemotherapy antineoplastic drugs are used, which destroy malignant cells or tumors.

The drugs used, the duration of the cycles and each session must be determined by the physician accompanying the case.

What can be said is that sessions and cycles should be done with the shortest possible interval so that there is more chance of improvement.


Radiation therapy uses radiation to destroy a malignant cell or prevent it from growing and spreading.

During the radiotherapy session, the patient does not feel pain and cannot see the radiation waves.

In general, this type of treatment has positive results, and may even promote the cure of the disease.


Immunotherapy (also called biological therapy) is a method that is proving effective in combating lung cancer.

In the vast majority of cases, biological therapy is used when other types of therapy are no longer showing the expected result.

Immunotherapy remedies are used to activate the patient’s immune system and thus allow the body itself to react and help eliminate the disease.

Are there any remedies for lung cancer?

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The function of drugs to fight lung cancer is to prevent the growth and reproduction of small malignant cells or to prevent the tumor from spreading to another part of the body. The doctor is the best person to prescribe the ideal medicine for each case.

Recommended medications include:

  • Alimta;
  • Giotrif ;
  • Keytruda ;
  • Iressa;
  • Ofev ;
  • Paclitaxel;
  • Tagrisso;
  • Tecentriq ;
  • People ;
  • Alecensa ;
  • Evobrig.

In general, the prices of these remedies vary between R $ 1,000.00 and R $ 40,000.00 *.

* Prices surveyed in January 2020. Prices may change.

What is the survival of a person with lung cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute (INCA), survival after the diagnosis of lung cancer is about 18%. That is, after 5 years of diagnosis, on average, 18% of people will still be alive.

The person’s gender is one of the factors that can influence the estimate. In the case of lung cancer, women are more likely (21%) to survive than men (15%).

How to prevent?

The best way to prevent a disease is, when possible, to avoid its main causes or risk factors.

Thus, the main recommendations for preventing lung cancer are:

  • Do not smoke and avoid inhaling cigarette smoke;
  • Do not frequently expose yourself to materials such as lead, arsenic, nickel, uranium and others;
  • Do medical examinations (such as chest X-rays) whenever requested;
  • Avoid air pollution in large cities;
  • Do not frequent or live in regions that are close to industrial factories that deal with materials such as fertilizers and heavy metals;
  • Do not consume water with asbestos.

Although they are very scarce, some studies are showing a small relationship that may require between lung cancer, physical inactivity and obesity .

So far, it is known that these two complications are risk factors for other types of cancer (such as stomach cancer).

Even though research shows that there is no relationship between lung cancer, obesity and physical inactivity, exercising and maintaining a healthy diet (with vegetables, fruits and vegetables) are INCA recommendations to prevent all forms of cancer.

Hookah causes lung cancer?

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Studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that smoking hookahs between 20 and 80 minutes can be equivalent to the same smoke exposure of 100 normal cigarettes. When used for a long time, the hookah can cause lung, mouth and stomach cancer , as well as making it easier for other forms of cancer to spread (metastasis).

The hookah smoke contains several toxic substances that vary depending on the flavorings, flavorings and filters that are used.

Among the most common products found in smoke are lead, cobalt, arsenic, nicotine and carbon monoxide.

Such substances, when frequently inhaled, tend to cause bronchitis, asthma , tuberculosis , pneumonia, fibrosis and pulmonary embolism , respiratory failure, among other diseases and syndromes.

In addition, when sharing this type of smoking with other people, there is a risk of contracting diseases that are transmitted by saliva (such as hepatitis C , herpes and tuberculosis).

In 2015, the Ministry of Health expressed its concern after the release of a survey that indicates that more than 212,000 Brazilians consume hookahs.

Youths between 18 and 29 years old were the highest percentage (63%) of those surveyed who admitted that they had already smoked.

Lung cancer is a disease that fortunately can be cured, although the process is difficult.

The sooner the diagnosis occurs, the sooner the correct treatment will be applied, increasing the chances of survival and recovery.

The main cause of lung cancer is smoking, that is, many deaths caused by this disease could be prevented.

In case of doubt, consult a pulmonologist or oncologist.

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