Only cancers that begin in the lungs are called “lung cancer.” Sometimes cancer from other parts of the body may spread to the lungs, but it is not called lung cancer. For example, breast cancer that spreads to the lungs is still breast cancer and will be treated as breast cancer, not lung cancer. Lung cancer that spreads to the liver is treated as lung cancer, not liver cancer.
Cancer forms when cells multiply out of control. All of the normal cells in your body have very specific jobs and functions. For example, intestine cells absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from our food; red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body; and white blood cells fight infections. Normal cells stop growing and dividing when they get old. Normal cells also die if they are injured.
Cancer cells are different. They do not function normally, they keep dividing and multiplying, and they do not die when they grow old. They can also spread through the blood stream, or invade nearby lymph nodes (small collections of white blood cells scattered throughout the body) and spread through the lymph system. When cancer cells spread through any of these methods, they can metastasize (travel to other organs and form new tumors). Common lung cancer metastasis sites include the brain, bones and liver.
Every cell contains genes, which are the “brains” that tell the cell what to do. When a cell’s genes are mutated (damaged or changed), cancer may develop. Some of these changes are inherited (passed down from parent to child), but others may occur due to exposure to certain toxins, such as cigarette smoke, radon and asbestos. When these mutations in the genes cause cells to multiply uncontrollably, a mass of cancer tissue, called a tumor, can develop.
This information is not designed to be a substitute for medical advice provided by your treatment team.
Last updated 2/2014
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