What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells which are abnormal occuring in one or both lungs. This means they can form tumors as they grow and prevent the lungs from working efficiently.
There are two main types of lung cancer, small cell and non small cell. Whilst treatments and growth of the two types differ, they both prevent the lungs from supplying oxygen to the body. (1)
There are factors that put you at higher risk of developing lung cancer. The most significant one is smoking cigarettes, in fact about 80-90 percent of lung cancer is attributed to this risk in the US alone. (2)
Any feeling of change in the way you breathe or discomfort in your chest should be investigated by a doctor. The symptoms of lung cancer may not be apparent and you could just feel under the weather.
There are also occasions when the effects of lung cancer may not be felt for many years. By the time it is detected the cancer could be in its advanced stages. (3)
The symptoms of this disease can relate directly to the chest area or if the cancer has spread manifest elsewhere in the body.
A cough that develops which is persistent and doesn’t go away can be a sign you have lung cancer.
Any unexplained pain in the chest, back or shoulder needs investigation. The pain could be constant or it could flare and subside. (6)
Shortness of breath is worrying at any time and it can be one of the early warning signs of lung cancer.
Recurrent lung conditions like bronchitis and pneumonia could be an indication of lung cancer.
Symptoms in Other Parts of the Body
Lung cancer, if undetected, can spread to other parts of the body, which includes lymph nodes, brain, liver, bones and adrenal glands. Consequently symptoms may appear in areas other than the chest.
Feeling extremely tired or weak for no reason should ring alarm bells. Other symptoms include:
Loss of appetite and sudden unexplained weight loss can indicate the presence of cancer. (12)
Becoming unsteady on your feet or finding your memory suddenly getting worse could be complications of cancer. (15)
We have already mentioned there are two types of lung cancer, each of which has different stages.
Stages are based on whether cancer has remained local to the area of the lungs or spread to other regions. These areas include lymph nodes or other major organs.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Occult (Hidden) Stage
At this stage cancer is not visible on imaging tests, but it may be detected in sputum or cell samples taken from the airways. The cancer may have spread elsewhere in the body.
This stage is also called carcinoma in situ and is recognised when abnormal cells which are potentially cancerous are found.
The cancer remains localised in the lungs and has not spread into the lymph nodes.
Cancer is located in the lungs and has spread to the lymph nodes.
The cancer is located in the lungs and has spread to the lymph nodes mid chest. This is local advancement of the cancer and has two subtypes.
Stage lllA indicates cancer which has spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest the cancer originated.
Stage lllB indicates cancer which has spread to lymph nodes on the opposite side to origination. This also includes the spread to lymph nodes above the collar bone.
The cancer is located in both lungs and spread into fluid around the lungs and other body parts and organs. Lung cancer at this stage is at its most advanced.
Small Cell Lung Cancer
These cancers can grow faster than non-small cell lung cancer, however they can also respond better to chemotherapy. There are two stages of this cancer:
Cancer is located on one side of the chest, in only one part of the lung and lymph nodes situated nearby.
Cancer is located in the lungs and lymph nodes and has spread elsewhere in the chest and body.
The initial screening for lung cancer will include x-rays, CT Scans or a biopsy to determine the type of cancer. Once this has been done treatments can be identified and administered.
The treatments for each type of lung cancer, small cell and non-small cell also differ.
Non-Small Cell Treatments
There are nine standard types of treatment available for this type of lung cancer. They involve surgery followed by other procedures including chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Dependent on the extent, there are four types of surgery associated with this form of cancer.
A wedge resection removes the cancerous tumor along with some of the healthy tissue around it. If a larger amount of healthy tissue is taken this will be referred to as a segmental resection.
A lobectomy removes the whole lobe or section of the lung where the cancer is detected.
A pneumonectomy removes a whole lung that has become cancerous. (18)
Chemotherapy uses drugs as a cancer treatment to stop the growth of cancer cells. It can stop the cells dividing or kill them completely.
Chemotherapy drugs enter the bloodstream whether they are taken by mouth or injected into a muscle or vein. This enables them to reach cancer cells wherever they are in the body.
The alternative is to regionalise the drugs by placing them directly into an organ, body cavity or spinal fluid. This means they then target cancerous cells in that area.
How the chemotherapy is administered will also be determined by the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Radiation therapy uses different types of radiation to kill or prevent the growth of cancer cells. It can be applied externally via machines designed to send radiation into the body or internally via radioactive substances. (21)
This procedure uses drugs or substances which are able to target specific cancer cells. It’s also a type of treatment less likely to harm non cancerous cells.
The types of drugs or substances used can either kill cancer cells, stop their growth or stop them from spreading. Some can block the signals inside cancer cells which they need to divide and grow. (22)
A thin beam of of intense light is used to target and kill cancerous cells. (23)
This treatment combines a drug sensitive to light and a laser to target and remove cancer cells. The drug is administered intravenously and when the laser is used it highlights the cancer cells and kills them. (24)
This type of surgery uses an instrument capable of freezing and destroying cells which are classed as abnormal. (25)
This treatment uses electric current to heat a needle or probe which is then used destroy irregular tissue. (26)
Watchful waiting is exactly what it says, observing but not providing immediate treatment. When signs or symptoms begin to change then appropriate health care is given. This is not a normal treatment for non-small cell lung cancer. (27)
Small Cell Lung Cancer
The treatment of choice for this type of lung cancer is chemotherapy, irrespective of what stage the cancer has reached. It may also be accompanied by radiation therapy.
However, a small number of sufferers can benefit from surgery. (28)
What is lung cancer? Lung cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells which are abnormal and can occur in one or both lungs. These cells are unable to develop into normal lung tissue and cause cancerous growths or tumors.
What are the signs of lung cancer? Signs you may have lung cancer include: shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent coughing, extreme tiredness and an unexplained loss of weight.
How do you develop lung cancer? There are several risk factors that can leave you susceptible to lung cancer, the main one is smoking. Other factors include gases like radon and exhaust fumes or substances like asbestos and arsenic. Genetics also play a part, you are more likely to develop cancer if any of your immediate family have had it. (29)
How are you diagnosed for lung cancer? If your doctor suspects you may have lung cancer they will request tests like x-rays, CT scans or a bronchoscopy. A biopsy will likely be taken to ascertain if you have cancerous cells. (30)
What is the best treatment for lung cancer? Treatment will depend on which type of lung cancer you have. If short cell then chemotherapy and radiation therapy are most likely. If non short cell then surgery may be the first option followed up with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Your doctor will decide with you what the best options are.
What are the long term complications of lung cancer? There are many side effects of the treatments for lung cancer. Some are short term and may pass once treatment is complete, others may persist. These include pain or weakness in the bones, hair loss, and tooth decay. (31)
Is lung cancer considered a disability? This disease can be serious and debilitating. You may automatically qualify for benefits therefore it’s worth checking with your social security provider. (32)
Is there a cure for lung cancer? There are treatments available for lung cancer, some of which are very successful. Every individual can react differently so what works for one may not for another. Your doctor will work closely with you to do their best to provide you with the care you need. (33)
Is lung cancer life threatening? This disease is life threatening, however trends of death caused by lung cancer show they are on the decrease. It is important you see your doctor if you have any symptoms you are concerned about. One thing is clear, early detection can give you a better prognosis. (34,35,36)
Lung cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells which are abnormal found in one or both lungs.
It’s a life threatening and severe disease, however, there are many successful treatment options particularly if it’s detected early enough. Therefore it’s imperative any warning signs and symptoms should be taken seriously and must be checked out by a doctor sooner rather than later.
As the main cause of lung cancer is smoking, quitting this habit will drastically reduce your chances of developing the disease.