Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up all tissues and organs of the body, including the lungs, pleura and the thymus.
Normal cells in the lungs and other parts of the body grow and divide to form new cells as they are needed. When normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body doesn’t need them, and old or damaged cells don’t die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor. Thoracic tumors, are the result of an uncontrolled reproduction and growth of abnormal cells in the airway.
Generally speaking, thoracic tumors are either benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous):
- Usually, benign tumors:
Are rarely a threat to life
Don’t invade the tissues around them
Don’t spread to other parts of the body
Don’t need to be removed
- Whereas, malignant tumors (cancerous)/ neoplasm:
May be a threat to life
Can invade nearby organs and tissues
Can spread to other parts of the body
Can be removed (most often) but may grow back
The stage of any cancer depends mainly on:
- The size of the tumor
- How deeply the tumor has invaded nearby tissue, such as the chest wall for lung cancer or mesothelioma
- Whether cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body
Tumor cells can spread by breaking away from the tumor. These travel through blood vessels or lymph vessels to reach other parts of the body. After spreading, cancer cells may attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors that may damage those tissues.
When cancerous tumors (malignant tumors) spread from their original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor. For example, if lung cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually lung cancer cells. The disease is metastatic lung cancer, not bone cancer. For that reason, it is treated as lung cancer, not bone cancer.
However cancer is not just one disease: specific cancer types need specific treatments and each patient requires a different kind of support. Therefore diagnosis and timely access to tailored treatments can ensure good results and an improved quality of life for patients. This can be achieved with the SPECTAlung program for thoracic cancers.