What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer
Lung cancer, the most deadly of all the cancers for both men and women in the U.S., is a type of cancer that usually originates in the lungs and is commonly associated with smoking. Each year, it is responsible for more deaths than breast, ovarian, colon, and prostate cancers combined.
The two main types of lung cancer are:
- Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer – The most common, non-small cell lung cancer makes up 85% of all lung cancers. It is a broad term used for several types of similar-behaving cancera, including large cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma.
- Small Cell Lung Cancer – Less common, it is almost only seen in heavy smokers. In most cases, it spreads rapidly.
Like many diseases, lung cancer often does not present as obvious signs during its early stages. It is generally when the cancer has advanced that the signs and symptoms become more noticeable.
These can include:
- A new, persistent cough
- A chronic or “smoker’s cough” that changes
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood (regardless of how little)
- Pain in the chest
- Hoarseness that won’t go away
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bone pain
Lung cancer can also cause several prolonged effects, including shortness of breath, pain, coughing up blood, a build-up of fluid in the chest, and metastasis (the spreading of cancer to other parts of the body).
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Non-smokers can also be affected by being exposed to second-hand smoke. However, lung cancer can occur in people who have never smoked or ever had long-term exposure to second-hand smoke. In these cases, there may be no definitive cause.
People who smoke are at higher risk of receiving a lung cancer diagnosis, but anyone can develop the condition. The frequency and amount of cigarettes smoked has an impact of one’s chances of getting lung cancer. Fortunately, it is possible to significantly lower your chances of getting lung cancer if you stop smoking, even if you smoked for several years.
Other risk factors include:
- Exposure to radon gas
- Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens
- Family history of lung cancer
Prevention & Treatment
The best way to prevent lung cancer is to not smoke, and avoid chronic exposure to second-hand smoke. Being screened for lung cancer is also highly recommended, especially for those who are at higher risk of developing the disease.
For those who have been diagnosed with lung cancer, there are several treatment options available, each with their own degree of risk. Options can include one or multiple treatments.
This could include wedge resection, segmental resection, lobectomy, and Pneumonectomy. Physicians sometimes also remove nymph nodes during surgery to inspect for signs of cancer.
Cancer-killing drugs are either administered through an I.V. or taken orally. This usually involves a combination of drugs administered over a series of office visits over a course of several weeks or months, with breaks in between to allow time for recovery.
This option uses high-powered energy beams, usually from X-rays and protons, to destroy cancer cells. It can be administered externally (external beam radiation ) or it can be inserted into needles, seeds, or catheters and placed inside the body near to the cancer (brachytherapy).
Targeted Drug Therapy
This new technique works by targeting specific abnormalities within the cancer cells. Targeted drug therapy is usually used in combination with chemotherapy.
Clinical trials involve the experimentation of lung cancer therapies. They may offer the most recent innovations in medical studies, but they do not guarantee a cure.
This type of care refers to supportive care, a centralized area of medicine involving therapy with a doctor in order to minimize the signs and symptoms of the disease. Its purpose is to improve the patient’s mood and quality of life.
Most doctors recommend palliative care immediately following a lung cancer diagnosis, as some studies support the idea that patients who received palliative care immediately following their diagnosis lived approximately three months longer compared to those patients who did not receive palliative care.