Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most common cause of death among cancer patients. It is closely affiliated with malignant mesothelioma because pleural mesothelioma, cancer of the outer lung lining, is the most common form of that disease. It is also true that surgery to treat pleural mesothelioma often involves removal of a lung.

Asbestos can be a contributing factor in the development of lung cancer or even the primary cause in unusual cases. But ninety percent of all lung cancer cases are caused by smoking; asbestos just heightens the risk for smokers. The potential for developing lung cancer is heightened by fifty times or more if a smoker has also been exposed to asbestos.

Primary and Secondary Lung Cancer

The primary designation for cancer is used for the location, tissue or organ where malignancy originates. Primary cancer of the lung originates in the lung tissue within the lung, the tissue that has direct contact with the air we breathe. Primary lung cancer is usually brought on by smoking, by exposure to abrasive and toxic materials that can be inhaled, or sometimes by genetic predisposition.

Secondary cancer is a term for cancer that has developed because malignancy has migrated to the secondary location from the primary source. If primary lung cancer leads to development of cancer in the lymph nodes, a common occurrence, then the cancer in the lymph nodes is secondary to the lung cancer. Lung cancer can be secondary to pleural mesothelioma, if the malignant cells migrate from the pleura, or outer lung lining, into the lung itself.

The term for migration of a carcinoma to secondary sites is metastasis. When cancer has reached the stage that it has moved from its primary location, the site where carcinoma first developed, to a secondary site, the cancer has metastasized. Metastasis occurs when malignant cells move through the body in the blood stream or via the lymph system. Metastatic carcinoma is often beyond surgical treatment; the only options left for treatment are chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

Primary lung cancer has is divided into two medical categories: small cell cancer and non-small cell cancer. The non-cell variety is the less frequent of the two: slightly less than twenty percent of all lung cancer cases are small cell. This particular variant of the disease is closely associated with smoking. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is particularly aggressive and spreads at a rapid pace. For this reason, chemotherapy is often a preferred form of treatment.

Small cell carcinoma of the lung, also called “oat cell” cancer, is likely to develop in the larger airways (bronchial tubes) and grows into a large tumor rapidly. While chemotherapy and radiotherapy seem to be effective with small cell lung cancer, the speed with which it develops and matures results in cancer that has already metastasized by the time symptoms have developed and a diagnosis has occurred.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell cancer accounts for eighty to ninety percent of all lung cancer cases. There are several types of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) which are grouped into three sub-categories. Those are:

  • Squamous Cell Lung Carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Large Cell Lung Carcinoma

Squamous cell lung cancer accounts for 25% - 30% of all lung cancer diagnoses. These cells are thin and flat, appearing to look something like fish scales under a microscope. Squamous cells are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, the lining of hollow organs of the body, and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Squamous cell carcinomas may arise in any of these tissues. In lung cancer cases, squamous cell carcinomas generally develop in one of the bronchial areas, in the middle of the lungs.

Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of lung cancer, comprising up to 40% of all cases. Unlike squamous cell lung cancer it develops from the glandular secretion tissues, the tissues that produce mucus. The outer airway passages of the lung are generally where adenocarcinoma develops, whereas squamous cell cancers are found in the main bronchial passages. It is the most common form of lung cancer among women.

Large cell lung cancer derives its name from the fact that the cells comprising these tumors look large and unnatural under a microscope. They are called anaplastic cells, which means that they have lost their characteristics of differentiation from other cells. There are several specific types of cancer classified as large cell lung carcinomas, as there are with the other categories; they are grouped by cell characteristics, prognosis and preferred types of treatment.

Legal Help for People with Asbestos Primary Lung Cancer

If you or a relative has been diagnosed with primary lung cancer and asbestos exposure is believed to be a factor, you should consult an asbestos attorney about seeking compensation from the asbestos companies.

Many thousands of Americans have filed asbestos liability claims against one or more asbestos product manufacturers and won.


  1. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry,
  2. National Cancer Institute,
  3. American Cancer Society,
  4. Small Cell Lung Cancer

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