Lunch cancer is the abnormal growth of cells within the lung tissue. There are commonly two types of lung cancers in existence, and they include:
- Non-Small Cell Lung Cancers (NSCLC) – which is the most common type of lung cancer to affect individuals and accounts for about 80% of lung cancers diagnosed. There are a variety of subtypes of NSCLC, which include, Adenocarcinoma (which arises in the mucus producing cells of the lungs and is the common type of cancer to affect those who smoke), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (which arises in the large airways of the lungs) and Large Cell Undifferentiated Carcinoma (which is a combination of the previous two types).
- Small Cell Lung Cancers (SCLC) – is the rarer form of lung cancer and accounts for about 20% of all diagnosed lung cancers. They tend to arise in the center of the lung tissue and spread outwards at a rapid rate.
But you must also keep in mind that lung tissue is a common site for metastasis, which is spread of cancer cells to the lungs from elsewhere in the body. Therefore it becomes important to determine if it is a primary lung cancer or secondary deposit from elsewhere.
Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer to affect men and women worldwide, and is also the leading cause of death in those diagnosed with cancer. It is estimated that 234,030 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed every year. The fiver year survival rate for those diagnosed with lung cancer is said to be 17%.
What Are the Symptoms of lung Cancer?
Some of the most common symptoms that indicate you might be having lung cancer include:
- Persistent cough with sputum and sometimes blood
- Chest pain
- Recurrent chest/lung infections
- Hoarseness of voice
- Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
- Easy fatigability
- Loss of weight and loss of appetite
If you have developed any of these symptoms and you are worried, then you should definitely see your doctor at the earliest.
What causes lung cancer?
Lung cancer is one of the deadliest cancers you can develop and is a disease which affects the older population. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer which has been identified, and it is said that the earlier you get into the habit of smoking and the larger the number of cigarettes you smoke, the higher the risk of you developing lung cancer. But individuals who do not smoke also develop lung cancer and the causes for this include:
- Passive exposure to tobacco smoke
- Exposure to radon gas
- Exposure to asbestos
- Exposure to industrial chemicals such as nickel chromate, uranium, beryllium, coal products, gasoline and diesel exhaust
- A strong family history of lung cancer
- Exposure of the lungs to radiation
- Exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water
What tests are used to diagnose lung cancer?
Diagnosis of lung cancer is done using physical examination of the patient as well as investigations. Although the physical examination will be helpful in diagnosing a condition related to the lungs, the exact diagnosis of cancer can be made using investigations such as:
- Chest X-ray - which will be able to detect the presence of a growth in the lungs if it is greater than 1cm in diameter
- CT scan – is a type of scan which makes use of X-rays to produce cross-sectional images of your chest region, so that tumors of the smallest diameter can easily be detected and the spread of the tumor can also be assessed
- Sputum cytology – where a sample of the sputum you cough out is collected and visualized under the microscope for the presence of cancer cells
- PET scan – is a scan which is usually done following the diagnosis of lung cancer in order to assess the spread of cancer to other parts of the body
- Biopsy – where a sample of your lung tissue is taken through various methods such as bronchoscopy, CT guided core biopsy or endobronchial ultrasound
What is the treatment for lung cancer?
The treatment modality your doctor chooses for you will depend on the type of lung cancer you have been diagnosed with and the stage of lung cancer. Staging is based on the TNM system, which helps to determine how big the cancer is and how far it has spread. Treatment for NSCLC includes:
- Surgery – where you can remove a small part of a lobe in your lungs (wedge resection), remove an entire lobe in your lung (lobectomy) or remove an entire lung (pneumonectomy).
- Radiotherapy – can be used in combination with other treatment modalities or alone, to treat locally advanced NSCLC or if surgery is not an option in early stage cancers.
- Thermal ablation – where the cancer cells are destroyed by heating them, using needles which are inserted into your lungs. This is an option for stage 1 NSCLC.
- Chemotherapy – where we make use of anti-cancer medication to destroy cancer cells which may remain after surgery or to improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy in combination with it.
- Immunotherapy – is medication which helps to stimulate the immune system in your body to help destroy the cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy – is therapy which targets specific gene mutations within the cancer cells, helping to destroy them, and is used only in advanced stages of NSCLC.
The mainstay of treatment for SCLC is chemotherapy, and radiotherapy in the case of stage 1-3 SCLC. Surgery is rarely used as a form of treatment in this case.
Palliative care is aimed at symptom relief and slowing down the spread of the cancer, when nothing else can be done to completely cure the condition. Keeping the patient as comfortable as possible with pain relief is an important factor. Palliative care also makes use of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and various other drugs to achieve this.
What is the Prognosis of lung cancer?
The outcome of lung cancer is dependent on many factors such as the type of lung cancer, the stage of the disease, your level of fitness and past medical history.
Screening for and prevention of lung cancer
There is currently no screening methods available for the early detection lung cancer.
Although there is no specific method to prevent the development of lung cancer, you can reduce the risk immensely by quitting tobacco smoking or not smoking, as well avoiding exposure to other carcinogens.