The formation of cancerous cells that originates from lungs is called lung cancer. Usually, lung cancer shows no symptoms at an early stage. Most significant symptoms are found in the advanced stages of lung cancer. Some of the common lung cancer symptoms are-
Smoking is considered as the highest risk factor to cause lung cancer in 9 out of 10 people. Pipe smoking and cigar are also considered dangerous apart from cigarettes. The possibilities of developing lung cancer depend on the frequency and duration of smoking. Most tobacco products consist of more than 7000 chemicals in them out of which 70 of those chemicals are known for causing lung cancer
Not all lung cancer patients are smokers, however, breathing cigarette or tobacco smoke as passive smokers is even more dangerous. Passive smokers inhale cigarette smoke along with other polluted smoke in the environment and this damages lung tissues immediately.
Chain smokers can reduce their chances of being affected by lung cancer by 50% if they quit smoking within 10 years from when they started.
Smoking is linked to about 90% of lung cancer deaths. Even smoking a few cigarettes a day increases the risk of lung cancer. Smoke from other people’s cigarettes (passive smoking) can also cause cancer.
However, frequent exposure to smoke causes severe damage to the lungs where self-repair fails to work. This begins to damage lung cells and increase the risk of lung cancer.
The risk can be lowered by giving up on smoking. Lung cancer can also be other factors like inhalation of hazardous gases with substances such as cadmium, uranium, few petroleum gases, nickel, arsenic and chromium.
Pre-existing lesion like pulmonary fibrosis is associated with sevenfold in increase in risk of lung cancer.
Although the genetic basis of lung cancer is still being elucidated, there is a clearly established familial risk.
The treatment completely depends on the stages of lung cancer. Signs of lung cancer varies at different stages and the treatment is considered to be more effective when diagnosed at an early stage. Non- small cell lung cancer is considered to be the most common type of lung cancer and its stages are as follows-
Stage 1: The cancer is at the beginning stage where a small portion of the lung is infected without spreading outside the lungs.
Stage 2: Cancer has infected the lungs completely and spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 3: In this stage, cancer spreads in lungs and lymph nodes present at the centre of the chest.
Stage 3A: Cancer spreads in all lymph nodes present on one side of the chest where it initially started.
Stage 3B: Cancer spreads in lymph nodes on the other side of the chest and gradually moves to the lymph nodes above the collar bone.
Stage 4: Cancer spreads in both lungs and area around the lungs and gradually moves to other organs.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is another form of lung cancer and has two main stages-
Limited Stage: Cancer is found in a small portion in only one lung and in lymph nodes on the same side of the chest.
Extensive Stage: In this stage, cancer begins to spread to the entire lung and gradually moves to the other lung and lymph nodes around it. It also infects lung fluids, bone marrow and other organs. Most often people suffering from SCLC are diagnosed at an extensive stage.
Diagnosis- Once you show symptoms of lung cancer or if you've been considered at a higher risk for lung cancer, your doctor will recommend you to go through a number of tests to identify the presence of cancerous cells. Lung cancer can often be misdiagnosed and treated as tuberculosis if not properly investigated, Some of the tests to diagnose cancer are-
Imaging Test- During this process, an abnormal mass can be revealed through an X-ray image. A CT/PET-CT scan is recommended if the X-ray scan comes out clean. A clear picture of small lesions can be seen in a CT scan.
Biopsy- A tissue sample is taken out from the lungs through a biopsy to analyse the presence of cancer cells. A biopsy can be done by different methods and they are -
All samples collected during the biopsy is analysed by a pathologist to investigate further. Once the presence of cancer cells are found, the patient has to undergo a further test to know the stage of the cancer. In this process, a radioactive chemical is injected to highlight unusual areas of bone in the MRI- Brain, CT, and PET scan images. Depending on the stage of the cancer and pathology report, you may be asked to undergo molecular tests on biopsy sample, which will help in deciding the treatment plan.
Treatment- Once you have been diagnosed by lung cancer, a group of doctors coordinate together to discuss treatment methods and keep each other informed about important decisions taken during the treatment. The team includes -
There are two major types sof lung caner- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and Small Cell lung caner (SCLC). The treatment depends on the lung cancer type, stages and other health conditions. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, comprising 80% of lung cancer. The treatment depends on the lung cancer stages and other patient related and disease related characters. Some of the common treatment methods are -
Surgery- Performing surgery on lung cancer patients entirely depends on the stage of cancer and the health condition to withstand surgery. Surgery is reserved for patients who are diagnosed at an early stage. During the surgery, a portion of the infected lung or the entire lung is removed based on the severity of the infection.
Radiation therapy- Radiation treatment is performed with the help of powerful beams that are emitted from X-ray and protons to kill cancer cells. During the process, the affected area is targeted by radiation from a moving machine, while the patient lies down on a table. Radiation can be after surgery or during early stages of NSCLC or to painful sites to provide symptomatic relief. A combined treatment of radiation and chemotherapy is recommended for Stage III patients who are not candidates for surgery.
Chemotherapy- The treatment includes use of drugs to eradicate cancer cells. These drugs are induced either orally or through veins in your arms. The drugs are combined to provide a series of treatment for a few weeks or months. Chemotherapy is usually performed after surgery to eradicate any cancer cells left behind. Chemotherapy is also combined with the radiation process for treatment of Stage III cancer and is usually the only treatment option for Stage IV disease.
Targeted Drug Therapy- Patients suffering from Stage IV lung cancer due to a specific type of mutation in cancer cells (EGFR, ALK, ROS, MET etc) are recommended to undergo targeted drug therapy. The irregularity in the cell is blocked using drugs to kill cancer cells. With advancement in cancer research and medical science, these drugs have drastically improved the survical rate of advanced stage cancer.
Immunotherapy- Immunotherapy is a new tool in lung cancer armamentarium. These drugs are given through intravenous route. It makes way for the patient's immune system to fight against cancer cells by clearing the proteins covering the immune system. As of now, Immunotherapy drug is recommended only for patients suffering from advanced lung cancer.
Palliative Care- It is a specialized care to improve the quality of life for patients living with advanced stage cancer. It is supportive care that helps in relieving pain, treating vomiting, improving fatigue etc. It is given worth or without chemotherapy. It is also given to patients who are not fit for any cancer directed therapy or in patients where medical therapy fails.
Stay positive and have strong mental health to face challenges and pain during treatment and recovery. It is common to feel anxious and doubtful about the future and recovery is a slow process that takes time to heal.
Recovery time differs from one person to another. You have to analyse your mental and physical health to perform any regular activity that drains out your energy. Here are a few tips given below that can help you recover sooner with a positive attitude.
Lung cancer cannot be prevented completely, however, there are some lung cancer prevention methods that can be followed to reduce the risk of being affected.
Stay away from smoke- Keeping yourself away from polluted smoke is the best choice to make. Educate people around you and create awareness in your children, talk to them about the risks involved in breathing smoke or polluted air.
Quit smoking- If you are a chain smoker or smoke casually, consider to quit smoking as soon as possible. If you cannot do it by yourself consult a lung doctor who can help you quit smoking by providing medication or nicotine replacement products.
Avoid being a passive smoker- Do not accompany your colleagues or friends to smoking zones if you are a non-smoker. Passive smoking is increasingly dangerous when compared to active smokers. Avoid smoking areas in public places like restaurants, bus stands, etc.
Check for radon exposure at home- Radon is a naturally erupted gas from earth and it can enter your house through cracks in the foundation. Follow precautionary methods during construction to avoid radon exposure. This is one of the important risk factors for the cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
Stay away from toxic chemicals at work- If you work in a chemical factory, avoid inhalation of toxic chemicals by following the instructions provided by your company. Do not forget to use face masks for protection and have a regular lung check-up done by a doctor to know the condition of your lungs. If you have signs of lung cancer or considered to be at risk of being affected by lung cancer, look out for an alternative job.
Eat healthy food- A balanced diet with all the nutrients in it prevents our body from various diseases. By including fresh fruits and vegetables to your daily meal you can build a stronger immune system to fight dangerous infections. Avoid intake of supplements for vitamins and minerals instead consider to consume food with vitamins and minerals in its natural form.
Exercise regularly- By exercising every day the body gets stronger by strengthening the immune system. There are proven records that show treatments have shown quicker results due to exercising.
A person affected by Lung Cancer usually has numerous questions running in their mind regarding treatments and chances of survival. Here is the list of frequently asked questions asked by lung cancer patients.
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