Does lung cancer spread when exposed to air?

OncoLink Team
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: May 7, 2013

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Question

My father has been diagnosed with Stage I non-small cell lung cancer. We are considering surgical resection. Is there any truth to the claim that cancer spreads when the "air hits it"?

Answer

Blair Marshall, MD, Thoracic Surgeon, responds:

There is no scientific data that supports that theory. That concept stems from rumors, most probably related to when a patient undergoes surgery for cancer and then may later dies of cancer that has spread. In this situation, the patient probably had microscopic disease that could not have been detected before they had the operation. After the operation, this microscopic disease will ultimately grow and cause patient symptoms and even death. However, because the patient had an operation, one might think that the surgery caused the spread. In actuality, if that patient had not undergone any surgery at all, they still would have developed widespread disease. For stage I lung cancer, the disease is limited to a region of the lung. There is plenty of published scientific data that supports surgery as the standard treatment option for patients with stage I non-small cell lung cancer and is associated with excellent survival rates. Operating on stage I non-small cell lung cancer is a current standard treatment because the results are so good, thus, this would contradict the theory that exposing a tumor to air causes it to spread.



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