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JAMA Patient Page
August 24/31, 2005

Lung Cancer

JAMA. 2005;294(8):990. doi:10.1001/jama.294.8.990

Of all the types of cancer, lung cancer is responsible for the most deaths in men and in women. Tobacco smoking is thought to be responsible for 8 out of 10 cases of lung cancer. Smoking greatly increases the risk of developing lung cancer because tobacco smoke contains carcinogens (substances that can cause cancer). At this time, stopping smoking is the only proven method for reducing the risk of developing lung cancer. Exposure to second-hand smoke from being around people who smoke also increases the risk of developing lung cancer. The August 24/31, 2005, issue of JAMA includes an article on staging (see below) of lung cancer. This Patient Page is based on one published in the January 15, 2003, issue of JAMA.

Symptoms of lung cancer

  • Persistent cough

  • Constant chest pain

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite or weight loss

  • Recurrent pneumonia

  • Swelling of neck and face

  • Coughing up blood


If lung cancer is suspected, your doctor may order a chest x-ray and a sputum test, in which mucus coughed up from the lungs is analyzed. To confirm the presence of lung cancer, a biopsy may be performed: a small sample of lung tissue is removed and examined for cancerous cells. If lung cancer is diagnosed, your doctor will want to determine the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread to other organs, a process known as staging. Knowing the stage of the disease is important in determining treatment.


Many factors go into determining the best treatment for lung cancer, including the stage of the disease, the specific type of cancer cells, the location in the lungs, and the general health of the patient.

  • Surgery to remove part of the lung, or in some cases an entire lung, may be performed. Surgery for some tumors may not be possible because of their size or location.

  • Chemotherapy (using drugs that kill cancer cells) is commonly used to treat cancer. Chemotherapy drugs are often given by vein.

  • Targeted therapy (using drugs that target proteins on the surface of lung cancer cells) is a new form of treatment.

  • Radiation therapy kills cancer cells by using high-energy rays supplied either by an external source aimed at the tumor or by implanting tiny radioactive particles directly in the tumor.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can have serious side effects, especially because these 2 treatments affect healthy as well as cancerous cells. Typical side effects include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, mouth sores, and fatigue.

For more information

Inform yourself

To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. A Patient Page on tobacco use was published in the September 1, 1999, issue, and one on quitting smoking was published in the July 24/31, 2002, issue.

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, American Lung Association

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.