What you need to know about Lung Cancer

Facts & Stats

Lung cancer is a form of cancer which starts in the lungs. The lungs are two sponge-like organs present in the chest that absorbs oxygen during inhalation and releases carbon dioxide as a person exhales. Lung cancer is by far the most widely occurring form of cancer in the world at the present moment. People who are into smoking regularly have the maximum chances of getting affected by lung cancer. However, in some cases lung cancer also affects people who have never smoked. Lung cancer is also the most common factor of cancer-related deaths for both sexes throughout the world.

Symptoms

Lung cancer generally doesn't exhibit any signs and symptoms during the earliest stages and the first symptoms become apparent once the disease has progressed. Common lung cancer signs include:

  • Bone pain
  • Headache
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pancoast syndrome
  • Paralysis of vocal cords
  • Hemoptysis or coughing up blood
  • Difficulty in swallowing or dysphagia
  • Losing weight for mysterious reasons

In case obstructions occur in front of a major large airway in the lungs, it can lead to collapsing of a certain part of the lung. This can also lead to infections like pneumonia and abscesses around the obstructed area.

Stages

Based on the results of the diagnostic tests, the medical experts perform the staging of the lung cancer as this can help to manage treatment easily.

  • During Stage I, lung cancer is limited to the lung.
  • During Stage II, the cancer remains confined to chest area
  • In Stage III, larger and critically invasive tumors are formed.
  • By the Stage IV, the cancer has eventually spread from chest to the distant parts of the patient’s body

In some cases, the doctors may only make use of two stages to describe the condition, namely limited stage and extensive stage.

Causes

There are numerous factors that can attribute to lung cancer and several of these factors may be responsible for a single case of cancer. Smoking is the major cause of lung cancer for both men and women. Cigarette smoking is the most important factor behind lung cancer, closely followed by cigar and pipe smoking. Passive smoking also leads to a large number of lung cancer-related deaths every year.

Other factors that can cause lung cancer include:

  • Asbestos fibers
  • Radon gas
  • Lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis
  • Familial predisposition
  • Air pollution
  • Diesel exhaust
  • Previous instance of lung cancer

Diagnosis

The doctor will first carry out a thorough physical exam and ask questions about general health and lifestyle habits. Imaging tests like chest X-rays, CT scans, low-dose helical CT scan, MRI scans, positron emission tomography or PET scan can be used for observing the extent and position of the cancer. Sputum cytology is recommended when the patient is coughing and producing sputum. Biopsy procedures like bronchoscopy, mediastinoscopy and needle biopsy can be performed to check the samples of cancer-affected abnormal cells. Bone scans may become necessary to determine the staging of the cancer. Each of these tests has a critical role to play diagnosing lung cancer.

Treatment

Lung cancer is treated mainly by surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy as well as multiple combinations of various treatment methods. Additionally, immunotherapy treatments and targeted therapies are also used these days to treat the cancer. Chemotherapy is best for cases where the cancer has spread to distant regions. Various surgical methods like wedge resection, segmental resection, lobectomy and pneumonectomy are used for treatment of lung cancer. Stereotactic body radiotherapy or radiosurgery is also a popular form of treatment. The patient and the doctor can discuss on the mode of treatment that will be best for a specific case and then go with it.

Prevention

It is very important to quit smoking completely if one is to prevent lung cancer. A person should steer clear of situations when he or she may be required to smoke passively. Similarly care should also be take so as not to breathe in auto emissions or asbestos dust which can lead to lung cancer. A radon gas test should be carried out at home to see if there are any traces of this harmful gas. Such methods of precaution will not only minimize the chances of getting affected by lung cancer but also improve lung health on an overall basis.