Lung cancer is the most likely cause of a cancer death in America. It kills more people each year than other types of cancer combined. On a daily basis, about 425 Americans will die of some form of lung cancer. Although lung cancer can occur at any age, people over 65 are more likely to receive the diagnosis.
What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs. It occurs when normal cells in the lungs begin to grow and divide abnormally. When cancer starts in lung cells, it is called primary lung cancer. The lung is part of the respiratory system. You use your lungs when you breathe. The lungs are in the chest, one on each side of the heart. The right lung has 3 main parts, called lobes. The left lung is a bit smaller and has 2 lobes.
However, lung cancer can grow in several ways depending on the type of cell it affects but often begins in the cells that line the bronchi. The bronchi are two tubes that divide into smaller tubes; bronchioles. These carry air to tiny sacs in the lungs called alveoli.
Furthermore, like many other cancers, detecting lung cancer can be difficult. Often, there are no early signs. Besides, when there are symptoms, it is usually in the advance stage. Sometimes, it’s because the disease has spread to other parts of the body.
Lung cancer causes
Smoking is the major cause. Tobacco smoke contains many toxic (poisonous) substances that damage the lining of the lungs and airways. Up to 90% of cases are due to smoking. These includes substances such as cigarettes, pipes and marijuana. or by prolonged exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke (passive smoking).
But second-hand smoke may also increase your risk. Passive smoking or prolong exposure to second-hand smoke may also cause lung cancer. Research suggests that some people are more susceptible to the cancer-causing effects of tobacco smoke than other people. This may explain why some older people don’t develop lung cancer even after smoking for years.
- Exposure to radon
- Heavy exposure to other toxic substances such as exhaust fumes, arsenic
- Asbestos exposure
- Radiotherapy treatment to the chest
- History of certain lung diseases such as tuberculosis (TB)
- Air pollution
- Family history of lung cancers
Types of lung cancer
There main types are:
- Non-small cell lung cancer: This is the most common type. It accounts for over 80% of cases. It usually spreads more slowly than small cell. There are several types of non-small cell lung cancer including squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma.
- Small cell lung cancer: It’s not as common as non-small cell cancer. It causes about 12–15% of cases. The cancer cells are smaller in size than non-small cell lung cancer cells. Mostly, it always occurs in heavy smokers.
- Mesothelioma. This rare type and begins in the tissue that lines the heart, lungs, and abdomen.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms can take years to develop and they may not appear until the disease is advanced. Many people will eventually develop symptoms such as;
- Noticeable voice change; hoarseness
- Repeated lung infections
- A cough that does not go away
- Chest pain that is often worse when deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Wheezing that does not go away
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
Lung cancer diagnosis
Your doctor will order several tests to check for cancerous cells or tumours in the lungs and airways. These may include:
- Chest X-ray: This may show an abnormal mass or growth
- CT scan, MRI or PET scan: These scans can reveal small lesions that may not be visible on X-ray
- Sputum test: In someone who is coughing up sputum, mucus or phlegm, your doctor will obtain a sample of sputum and send it to the laboratory to test for cancer cells
- Biopsy: A biopsy involves taking a small sample of tissue from the airways or lungs and sending it to the laboratory to check for cancer cells.
Furthermore, new technologies to treat and screen for lung cancer are available. Researchers are always working on new ways to screen for and treat this disease. Screening has been shown to reduce the death rate and should be part of routine health care maintenance. You should have a screening as you get older.
Treatment for lung cancer
The type of treatment depends on many factors such as; type, location, symptoms and your general health. Depending on the factors above, treatment may include:
Surgery to remove the part of the lung affected by cancer. The aim of surgery is to get rid of all the cancer cells if possible. The amount of lung tissue removed depends on how much of the lung is affected by cancer. Sometimes, an entire lung can be removed; thus pneumonectomy. Removal of a large section (lobe) of the lung; thus lobectomy). Removal of a small section; thus wedge or segmental resection. Surgery offers the best hope of a cure for non-small cell cancer. Besides, if it hasn’t spread to other parts of the body yet. But surgery is not often used in the treatment of small cell cancer.
This is a course of anti-cancer medicine given to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy also works by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. The medicine is often given through your vein or as tablets.
This involves the use of high energy rays, to kill or shrink the cancer cells. The radiation may either come from an external radiation or from radioactive materials placed directly in or near the tumour. But in most cases, external radiation is commonly used to treat lung cancer.
Lasers use high-intensity light to shrink or destroy tumours. This can help to control the growth of cancer cells and unblock airways obstructed by a tumour. While it does not cure the cancer, it can provide symptom relief.
You can greatly reduce your risk by:
- Live smoke-free. Don’t use any tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes or chewing tobacco. Quit smoking if you smoke.
- Also, try to avoid or minimize exposure to second-hand smoke
- Avoiding asbestos exposure and exposure to other cancer-causing substances such as radon
- Eat a healthy diet
- Do regular physical activity