Lung cancer occurs when uncontrolled cell growth in the lung tissue leads to the development of a malignant tumour. According to the NHS lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer in the UK and the most common worldwide with approximately 38,000 people in the UK diagnosed with the disease each year.
There are a number of different types of lung cancer although they all fall under two main bands; Primary Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma. In this article I will be focussing on primary lung cancer. You can read more about mesothelioma by clicking here. Primary lung cancer can be further broken down into two major categories:
2) NON SMALL CELL LUNG CANCER (NSCLC):- Non small cell lung cancer accounts for 80% of lung cancer cases. It can be further broken down into three categories; Squamous Cell Carcinoma (the most common type of lung cancer which develops in the cells that line the airways), Adenocarcinoma (a cancer which develops from the cells that produce mucus) and Large Cell Carcinoma (a cancer which can develop in any part of the lung and usually grows very rapidly). Although there are small differences between the three types they all behave in similar ways.
Unlike other types of cancer where the causes are still unknown, there is strong evidence to suggest that a number of specific factors lead to the development of lung cancer. These include:
1) SMOKING:- Smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer with smokers believed to be 10 times more likely than non-smokers to contract the disease. The risk also increases with the amount of cigarettes smoked with heavy smokers (20+ cigarettes per day) up to 40 times more likely to develop lung cancer. Stopping smoking reduces your risk of developing lung cancer over time, with your risk returning to that of a non-smoker after 15 years.
2) GENES:- It is believed that certain people are more likely to develop lung cancer than others as the result of inherited faulty genes. However, it is currently unknown what these faulty genes are.
3) RADON:- Radon is a gas created from the breakdown of uranium. In certain parts of the UK (including the Peak District) this gas passes from the soil into the foundations of buildings. Exposure to high levels of radon is believed to increase your risk for contracting lung cancer.
4) ASBESTOS:- As discussed in one of my previous articles, asbestos is believed to cause mesothelioma. However, it is also linked with an increased risk of primary lung cancer particularly if combined with cigarette smoking.
When primary lung cancer develops a number of symptoms usually begin to show. These symptoms are similar to those associated with SCLC and include:
– A chronic cough.
– A change in an existing chronic cough.
– Coughing up phlegm containing blood.
– Loss of appetite.
– Pain when breathing or coughing.
– Weight loss.
If you notice any of these symptoms then you should see your doctor right away and explain your concerns. They will then be able to perform the necessary tests to allow a proper diagnosis. These tests will include:
1) PHYSICAL EXAMINATION:- Your doctor will usually kick off testing with a physical examination. This will involve them assessing your general health, looking for any of the above symptoms and gauging how much you smoke. If your doctor is concerned that you may have lung cancer following the physical exam they are likely to book you in for future tests.
2) CHEST X-RAY:- A chest x-ray will allow any abnormalities and possible tumours in your lungs to be identified.
3) COMPUTERISED TOMOGRAPHY (CT) SCAN:- A CT scan uses multiple x-rays to create a 3D picture of the inside of your body. This will then allow your doctor to look at any abnormalities/tumours in greater detail.
4) BRONCHOSCOPY:- This test involves using a bronchoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a viewing lens or camera on the end) so that your doctor can look at the inside of your airways and identify any possible tumours.
5) LUNG BIOPSY:- A bronchoscope can also be used to take tissue samples from the cells of your lungs and then looked at in more detail under the microscope. This process is referred to as a biopsy.
If any of the above tests reveal that you do have lung cancer your doctor will then stage your cancer based on how far it has spread. The stages of lung cancer are outlined below:
1) STAGE 1:- This is when the cancer is small and has not spread beyond the lungs.
2) STAGE 2:- This is when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (glands which help remove unwanted bacteria from the body) close to the affected lung.
3) STAGE 3:- This is when either; the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes furthest away from the affected lung but is still on the same side of the chest OR the cancer is only in the lymph nodes nearest to the affected lung but it has spread to the chest wall, the pleura (the lining of the lungs) or the mediastinum (middle of the chest).
4) STAGE 4:- This is when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Once your cancer has been diagnosed and staged your doctor will put you on a treatment plan. The treatment chosen will depend upon a number of factors including; the size of the tumour, how far the cancer has spread, your overall health and the stageing of the cancer. A number of the possible treatment options are outlined below:
1) SURGERY:- Surgery is most commonly used with stage 1 lung cancer, providing your health permits it. There are generally two types of surgery used to treat lung cancer; a lobectomy (where one lobe of a lung is removed) and a pneumonectomy (where an entire lung is removed). Chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be suggested before and after surgery to maximise its effectiveness.
2) CHEMOTHERAPY:- Chemotherapy involves using anti-cancer medications to kill or shrink the malignant cells. It is often used in lung cancer stages 2 to 4 when the cancer has spread too far for surgery to be viable.
3) RADIOTHERAPY:- Radiotherapy involves using high doses of radiation to kill or shrink the cancerous cells. Again, it is mainly used in lung cancer stages 2 to 4 when surgery is no longer viable.
Even with the appropriate treatment lung cancer is still a very damaging disease. According to Net Doctor 10% of patients diagnosed with lung cancer can expect to be alive after 5 years with no signs of the cancer returning. Therefore, it is advisable that you take preventative action and reduce your overall risk of developing lung cancer. There are two major preventative actions you can take:
1) QUIT SMOKING:- The number one way to reduce your risk of contracting lung cancer is to stop smoking. If you are a non-smoker then don’t start and try to avoid environments where you will be around smoke.
2) AVOID ASBESTOS AND RADON:- As I have already mentioned, asbestos and radon can both increase your chances of contracting lung cancer. Therefore, try and avoid them where possible.
Lung cancer is a very serious health risk and any possible symptoms should not be ignored. According to Net Doctor it is responsible for 40,000 fatalities in the UK each year. However, unlike other types of cancer, with lung cancer you have the upper hand. Smoking is the major risk factor and by making one simple lifestyle choice and choosing not to smoke you will hopefully never contract this terrible disease.
Whilst every intention has been made to make this article accurate and informative, it is intended for general information only. Lung Cancer is a very serious, life threatening condition and you should discuss any concerns, treatments or lifestyle changes fully with your doctor.