The Risk And Prevention Of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer does not discriminate based on sex or race, but the primary risk factor for developing the disease is a history of smoking. 85 percent of lung cancer patients smoked at some point in their lives, and the National Cancer Institute reports smokers have a 20 times greater risk for developing the disease than non smokers.
But it’s important to note that not all smokers will develop lung cancer, and not all lung cancer patients were smokers. Environmental exposure to inhaled carcinogens substances that can cause cancer and toxins such as air pollution are likely to blame for the 15 percent or so of lung cancers that occur in people who never smoked. Exposure to radon and radiation are two common contributors to the development of lung cancer.
Signs and Symptoms Of lung Cancer
Lung cancer typically does not offer many signs of its presence early on, which makes detecting it in its most treatable stages a difficult undertaking. Among those who do have symptoms, the most common ones are;
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse.
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm).
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing.
- Weight loss and loss of appetite.
- Shortness of breath.
- Feeling tired or weak.
- Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back.
- New onset of wheezing.
Screening Of Lung Cancer
Regular screening for lung cancer is not yet a common occurrence, although people who currently or formerly smoked heavily are encouraged to monitor the health of their lungs, especially if they won’t or can’t quit smoking. However, screening does bring with it the possibility of false positives, which can lead to unnecessary surgery and potential harm to the patient. Despite these risks, the improved mortality rate that lung cancer screening offers means that you absolutely should be having a conversation with your primary care physician or your doctor about screening and whether or not it makes sense for you.
Diagnosis Of Lung Cancer
To diagnose lung cancer, your doctor will use X-ray or CT imaging to get a better look at your lungs. If a suspicious mass or tumor is found, your doctor may recommend additional imaging such as a PET (or positron emission tomography) scan or lung endoscopy, in which your doctor will use a scope to get a look inside your airways. A biopsy will remove a tissue sample which can then be tested to determine whether the mass is cancerous, and if so, what type and stage of cancer you have.
Samples of your tumor will be sent to the lab for additional analysis to determine the specific genetic mutations that may be driving the growth of the cancer. This information is important for helping your oncologist develop the right treatment plan for individual case.
CT imaging and surgical biopsy are considered the most accurate ways to diagnose lung cancer currently, researchers are developing a less-invasive technique called liquid biopsy that may one day replace high risk surgeries and the need for X-ray radiation to determine whether cancer is present. Liquid biopsy examines a blood sample from the patient for evidence of DNA from cancerous cells. It’s hoped that as the accuracy of these analyses improve, liquid biopsy could eventually replace CT imaging as a routine screening method, as it has very few side effects and may be less expensive to make available to a wider swath of the population.
Types and Stages Of Lung Cancer
A lung cancer diagnosis is not the same thing for all patients. The type of lung cancer and its stage, or how advanced it is, along with additional information about your cancer’s specific characteristics will all dictate how your doctor recommends treating the disease. Lung cancer can be categorized into two main types.
The non small cell lung cancer accounts for about 80 to 85 percent of all lung cancers. This type of cancer is slower growing, but is often caught later when the disease is more advanced and harder to treat. NSCLC are further sub typed based on the types of cells in the tumor.
Your doctor will stage, or determine how far along your cancer is, as part of your diagnosis. Staging the disease helps your doctor understand where your disease is in its progression and may help him or her determine the best course of treatment for your individual case. Staging can be a complex undertaking, but generally, if your lung cancer is listed as stage 1, it has been discovered early on and has not spread beyond your lungs. In stage 2, cancer cells will be found in the lung and in lymph nodes near the tumor. Stage 3 sees cancer cells in lymph nodes farther away from the tumor, and in stage 4, the cancer has spread beyond the chest.
The small cell lung cancer also sometimes called oat cell cancer, is an aggressive form of lung cancer that spreads quickly and accounts for 10 to 15 percent of all lung cancer cases. It’s typically classified into early-stage cancer that’s limited to one lung and advanced-stage when the cancer has spread beyond the one lung.
Treatments Of Lung Cancer
The very first thing you should do upon receiving a lung cancer diagnosis (if you haven’t already) is quit smoking. Although never smoking is best, quitting as soon as possible is always better than continuing to smoke. Even if you’ve smoked for a long time, quitting smoking is the best way to help improve your survival timeline and prognosis.
Removing the tumor is typically the first plan of attack in dealing with most forms of cancer, particularly if it’s caught early and hasn’t spread to distant parts of the body. Depending on the stage and type of lung cancer you have, your doctor may recommend a wedge resection, in which the surgeon will remove the tumor plus a wedge-shaped perimeter of healthy cells around it.
With more invasive or later stage cases of NSCLC, your doctor may recommend a lobectomy the removal of a lobe or section of the lung – or a pneumonectomy, removal of the entire lung. It’s possible to still lead a relatively normal life with just one lung. If the cancer is in the bronchi the tubes that connect the windpipe to the lungs you may undergo a sleeve resection surgery to remove the part of the bronchus where the tumor is located.
Depending on the stage and class of cancer you have, your doctors may also recommend that you undergo radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Some patients may qualify for clinical trials for lung cancer.
Prevention Of Lung Cancer
Because lung cancer is so closely associated with smoking, the biggest way to prevent developing the disease is to not smoke. If you are a smoker, quitting now will greatly reduce your chances of developing the disease later. If you already have lung cancer, quitting smoking will improve your prognosis and your survival outlook. Still, it’s possible for nonsmokers to develop lung cancer. For anyone concerned about developing lung cancer, the best prevention advice is the same common sense counsel your doctor would give you to help ward off any chronic disease exercise, eat right, get plenty of sleep and avoid stress as much as possible. With lung cancer, avoiding exposure to inhaled carcinogens such as asbestos or radon is also important. You can’t control your genetic predisposition for developing cancer, but with lung cancer, avoiding smoking and taking good care of yourself seem to be the best ways to reduce your risk.