Lung Cancer

Being told that you or someone you love has lung cancer can be a very overwhelming and frightening experience. Lung cancer is a very complex disease and the medical information you receive may be confusing and difficult to understand at times. There are also many decisions to be made including treatment at the various stages of the disease as well as emotional and practical concerns. It is important to remember that you are not alone and that you do not have to make this journey by yourself.

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is a malignant tumour in the tissue of one or both lungs. A tumour may be found in the bronchi or in the spongy lung tissue. A tumour that starts in the lung is known as a primary lung cancer. Tumours in the lung may also be due to cancer which has spread through the blood from another part of the body such as the breast, bowel, or prostate – these cancers are called lung “secondary” or “metastases”. The following information refers to primary lung cancer.

Like other cancers, lung cancer is the result of the uncontrolled growth and multiplication of cells in the lung(s). Over time, this abnormal cell growth develops into a progressively larger mass which starts to invade functional parts of the lung, affecting breathing, causing pain and symptoms related to the loss of normal lung function. Doctors call this abnormal cluster of cells a “tumour”. These abnormal cells grow and divide uncontrollably and, if left untreated, eventually spread throughout the body.

Your health care team

Everyone has different needs depending on their symptoms, condition and the severity of their disease. Therefore, it is important that you see a range of health professionals who are experts in their fields to ensure that you receive the best possible care. Learning about the individual roles of the different health professionals is important so you can identify who needs to be a part of your health care team. It is also important to know this because an essential part of being an effective self-manager is having a team you trust and with whom you feel confident talking about your treatments, needs and wishes. Members of your health care team will be located across many different health care settings, for instance the hospital where you have your treatment, general practice where you see your local doctor, and community health networks such as Lung Foundation Australia. Members of your health care team can include a respiratory physician, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgical oncologist, palliative care physician, lung cancer nurse, social worker, pharmacist, psychologist, physiotherapist, and your General Practitioner (GP).