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All you need to know about Lung Cancer

(prevention and treatment.)

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1. Symptoms and Causes of Lung Cancer

The formation of cancerous cells that originates from lungs is called lung cancer. Usually, lung cancer shows no symptoms at an early age. Most significant symptoms are found in the advanced stages of lung cancer. Some of the common lung cancer symptoms are-

  • A sudden chronic cough that worsens over time and fails to go away.
  • Increased coughing session of phlegm with blood.
  • Chronic chest pain that causes difficulty in coughing, laughing or even breathing.
  • Hoarseness (Change in the voice which sounds breathy and rough).
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Constant feeling of tiredness and weakness.
  • Body and joint pain accompanied by headache.

Causes

Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer and also occurs in non-smoking people through passive smoking. Inhalation of smoke damages the lung tissues, when the inhalation is smaller and not frequent the lung is capable of repairing its tissues.

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 called small lung cancer which is caused due to heavy smoking.

The risk can be lowered by giving up on smoking. Lung cancer is also caused by frequent inhalation of hazardous gases with substances such as cadmium, uranium, few petroleum gases, nickel, arsenic and chromium.

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2.Risk factors

Risk Factors and symptoms of Lung Cancer
  • There are multiple risk factors for lung cancer and one of the most evident risk factor that causes lung cancer is smoking. Being a passive smoker also causes injuries to lung tissues just as an active smoker.
  • Lung cancer can be passed on genetically if there is a family history of lung cancer.
  • Constant inhalation of toxic chemicals such as chromium and nickel and emissions from diesel vehicles.
  • Inhalation of radon gas, a natural gas that rises from the ground and enters buildings through cracks in the foundation.

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3.Diagnosis and Treatment of Lung Cancer

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. 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 scan is recommended if the X-ray scan comes out clean. A clear picture of small lesions can be seen in a CT scan.

Sputum cytology- Lung cancer cells can be identified by a microscopic research from the sputum released during coughs.

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 -

  • Bronchoscopy- The patient is sedated to pass a lighted tube down the throat to the lungs to get a closer view and to examine the condition of the lungs.
  • Mediastinoscopy- This procedure is done in the operation theatre with general anaesthesia where the doctor makes a small cut at the base of the neck to pass a lighted instrument to take a sample of lymph nodes with the help of surgical tools.
  • Needle- A needle is passed through the chest wall and then passed through the infected lung tissue to obtain a sample of lymph nodes. This procedure is performed by looking at the imaging tests.

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, CT, and PET scan images.

Treatment- Once you have been diagnosed by lung cancer, a lung doctor usually recommends going through a second opinion and when cancer is confirmed, 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-

  • A thoracic surgeon who is a specialist in lung and chest surgeries
  • A pulmonologist
  • A medical oncologist.
  • A radiation oncologist.

The treatment depends on the lung cancer stages and other health conditions. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer and its treatments differ from one person to another. 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. The surgery to eradicate infections in lymph nodes are simplified by linking chemotherapy during the surgery which improves survival rates. 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 infected area is targeted by radiation from a moving machine, while the patient lies down on a table. Radiation is used to cure effects both before and after surgery or during the beginning stages of NSCLC. A combined treatment of radiation and chemotherapy is recommended without surgery.

Chemotherapy- The treatment includes induction 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 combined with the radiation process to heal lung cancer at early stages without any surgeries.

Radiosurgery- This is a treatment performed on patients affected by lung cancer who cannot undergo surgery depending on their health condition. In this process, a forceful set of radiation beams target the affected areas. This process also treats the infection which has spread to other parts of the body.

Targeted Drug Therapy- Patients suffering from lung cancer due to a specific type of cancer cells present in their body are recommended to undergo targeted drug therapy. The irregularity in the cell is blocked using drugs to kill cancer cells. This therapy is usually recommended to patients suffering from lung cancer in their advanced stages or when there are high chances of lung cancer to reoccur. It is also a treatment considered to heal lung cancer caused due to genetic mutation.

Immunotherapy- This process makes way for the patient's immune system to fight against cancer cells by clearing the proteins covering the immune system. Immunotherapy is recommended only for patients suffering from advanced lung cancer.

Palliative Care- When cancer has reached an advanced stage and medication faisl to work, and when patients refuse to undergo any further treatment are advised to consider palliative care. It is supportive care that helps in relieving pain.

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4.Lung Cancer and Smoking

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.

Not all lung cancer patients are smokers, however, breathing cigarette or tobacco smoke as passive smokers is even more dangerous. There are studies to prove that the death rate of lung cancer patients caused due to secondhand smoking has increased every year.

Most tobacco products consist of more than 7000 chemicals in them out of which 70 of those chemicals are known for causing lung cancer. Passive smokers inhale cigarette smoke along with other polluted smoke in the environment and this damages lung tissues immediately.

Lungs can cure its damaged tissues and cells unless it is exposed to smoke frequently. In case of frequent exposure to smoke, it fails to heal itself causing severe damage which leads to lung cancer where the infected cells begin to multiply and spreads to other parts of the body. 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.

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5.Steps to Prevent Lung Cancer

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.

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6.Stages of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer stages and treatment

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.

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7.Road to Recovery and Aftercare

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.

  • Save your energy by not doing everything by yourself, ask for help from your loved ones and save your energy on things you want to do.
  • Follow healthy eating habits and stick to the lung cancer diet chart recommended by your nutritionist.
  • Avoid situations and scenarios that increase your stress level. Take it easy at work and do not overexert yourself.
  • Don't get lazy, maintain a healthy balance between taking rest and being active.
  • Always talk to your doctor about improvements and difficulties in recovery during follow-ups.
  • Go on walks, start with short distance and slower walks gradually increase the distance and pace without exhausting yourself.
  • Stay focused and feel more confident by setting small goals of recovery. Reward yourself with something you love once the goal is achieved.
  • Socialize with your family, friends and with people who can put a smile on your face.
  • Go on holidays, arrange parties with friends, indulge in hobbies you love, get back to work and take part in charity work.
  • After recovery, you will tend to look at life differently by prioritising things to do in life. You will realise a healthy life is more important and will find ways to decrease stress levels in life.
  • Quit smoking- Smoking worsens the condition in cancer and rapidly increase the chances of reoccurrence.
  • Limit alcohol consumption- Do not exceed weekly quota of 8 to 10 drinks. Drink responsibly and never more than two drinks in a day.

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8.Lung Cancer FAQs: All your concerns addressed

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.

Q.  Is a second opinion required before undergoing lung cancer treatments? If yes, why is it important?

  1. Once you are diagnosed with lung cancer your doctor usually recommends a second opinion to find the best solutions to treat the disease as soon as possible.

Q.  How long does chemotherapy treatment take to cure lung cancer?

  1. Chemotherapy process is a systematic plan and varies from one patient to another depending on the stage of cancer. Speak to your doctor to get a clear picture of the process and do not hesitate to clear all your doubts.

Q.  Why is it required to undergo chemotherapy and radiation before surgery to remove lung cancer?

  1. Chemotherapy and radiation help in reducing the size of the tumour and this makes it easy for doctors to remove the tumour successfully.

Q.  What are the stages of lung cancer and why is it important to know the stage of lung cancer before treatment?

  1. The treatment method for lung cancer differs depending on the stage of lung cancer. The stage of cancer is defined depending on the areas infected. The common stages of lung cancer are-
  1. Stage 1: Cancer has just started and a small portion of the lung is infected.
  2. Stage 2: The entire lung is infected allowing the cancer cells to spread to lymph nodes nearby.
  3. Stage 3: Once the lung in infected on one side the infection spreads to the lymph nodes present at the centre of the chest.
  4. Stage 3A: The infection is spread to all lymph nodes present one side of the chest.
  5. Stage 3B: The infection begins to spread towards lymph nodes above the collar bone.
  6. Stage 4: Cancer cells have started to spread all over the chest including both lungs and slowly moves on to infect other organs.

Q.  Why do the reactions and results of lung cancer treatment differ for each person from the same chemotherapy drugs?

  1. It is a known fact that chemotherapy results will differ from one person to another depending on their metabolic rate. One person might have a weird feeling of nausea while the other can feel fatigued. This also depends on the dosage of the drug provided. The dosage of the drug differs at every stage. It is always important to remember that the recovery speed and the process during lung cancer treatment differs from person to person. Consult with a top lung cancer specialist in your city to better understand your prognosis.

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9.Stories of Hope

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