Our lungs are a pair of pyramid-shaped organs that keep us alive by facilitating the exchange of carbon dioxide (waste product we produce) with life-giving oxygen. At the base, our lungs are bordered by our diaphragm (a flat muscle shaped like a dome that separates the abdominal and thoracic cavities). And although they’re a pair, our lungs are asymmetrical: our left lung occupies a smaller volume than our right lung, the latter of which is shorter.
Lung cancer, which is the deadliest cancer in the US, can be divided into two subtypes:
- Small cell lung cancer, which almost only occurs in heavy smokers, and makes up between 10-15 percent of all cases of the disease.
- Non-small cell lung cancer, which is a broad term used for many types of lung cancers that behave similarly.
The type of lung cancer that you have greatly informs how your disease is, in turn, treated. Another factor that informs a case’s treatment plan is how far the disease has spread by the time it has been caught. In general:
- Individuals with small cell lung cancer are treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, while
- Individuals with non-small cell lung cancer are treated with targeted therapy, radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy, or a combination of the four.
The aforementioned treatment approaches work in the following ways:
- Targeted therapy involves using drugs to stop the spread and growth of cancer cells; these drugs come in intravenous or pill format.
- Radiation therapy harnesses high-energy rays akin to x-rays in order to kill a given cancer.
- Surgery involves directly operating to remove cancerous tissue.
- Chemotherapy uses special medication to kill or shrink a given cancer; like targeted therapy, chemotherapy drugs can be in intravenous or pill form.
Each individual’s instance cancer is different, making the best treatment options for a given situation vary on a case-by-case basis. It’s important to contact a physician if you suspect you could be showing signs of lung cancer.