Take a deep breath in, then let it out. That feels really good, doesn’t it? We need air to live. Our lungs have the important job of making sure we get the air we need.

But what happens if the lungs aren’t working well? Sometimes, people develop lung cancer, which causes more deaths than any other type of cancer in the United States. In 2008, about 160,000 people died of this disease. There are many causes of lung cancer.

The good news is that you can reduce your risk of getting lung cancer by not smoking. Smoking is a big cause of lung cancer and other diseases, so don’t smoke!

LUNGevity is a charity that includes lung cancer survivors, their families and scientists who are working to end this dangerous situation. The Mini Page talked with specialists in this group to learn more about lung cancer and the increased hope that new research offers.

Important organs

We each have two lungs, one on each side of our chest. Lungs are stretchy, almost like balloons. When we breathe in air, lungs inflate, or puff out. When we breathe out, our lungs deflate, or grow flatter.

Hard workers

The lungs’ main jobs are to bring oxygen to our blood and to get rid of carbon dioxide. When we breathe in, or inhale, lungs fill with air. Oxygen from the air enters our lungs and then goes into the bloodstream.

When we breathe out, or exhale, the lungs push out the carbon dioxide waste from our bodies.


Lungs also help protect us against dangers in the environment. When special cells in the lungs detect possible threats, such as germs, they trigger our immune system to fight the invaders.

Lungs usually do a great job clearing out the bad things we breathe in, such as tobacco smoke and diesel fumes. This cleaning system can sometimes work too hard and can also trigger allergic reactions.


About 2,500 years ago, a Greek doctor named Hippocrates (hih-PAW-kruh-teez) called this disease “cancer” after the Greek word for crab. Cancerous tumors may have looked like crabs because veins spread from the tumor like crab claws. Maybe the hard tumor was like the hard shell of a crab.

The body controls how much normal cells grow. But cancer cells don’t have any brakes. They grow and grow.

Once cancer starts growing in one spot, blood can carry the cancer cells to other parts of the body. When cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, we say they metastasize (muh-TAS-tuh-size).

A lung is like an upside-down tree. The trachea (TRAY-kee-uh), or windpipe, is like the tree trunk. Bronchi (BRONG-kie) are like branches. Air sacs called alveoli (al-VEE-oh-lie) are like leaves. Oxygen goes out and carbon dioxide comes in while the gases are in the alveoli.