Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in the world – causing more deaths than breast and prostate cancer put together.
What is cancer?
Our body consists of cells. Normal cells grow, multiply and die in an orderly manner and are replaced by new cells. Cancer cells do not die but continue to multiply in a disorderly manner. Over time they can form a mass which may be malignant.
What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer develops when this process occurs in the lungs. This type of cancer often develops slowly. There are three types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer and lung carcinoid tumor.
The lungs are 2 sponge-like organs found in the chest. The right lung has 3 sections, called lobes. The left lung has 2 lobes, as show in the picture below. The left lung is smaller because the heart takes up more room on that side of the body. The lungs bring air in and out of the body. They take in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide gas, a waste product.
What increases my risk?
A RISK FACTOR increases the likelihood that you will develop a disease. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will develop a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Risk factors for lung cancer include:
Tobacco Smoke – Smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. About 85 % - 90% of all lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking. All tobacco products are linked to lung cancer (i.e. cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc.). Secondhand smoke also increases risk.
Radon – This naturally occurring radioactive gas that forms from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and the leading cause among non-smokers.
Asbestos – workplace exposure to asbestos fibers is an important risk factor for lung cancer.
Personal or Family History – If you have had lung cancer, you have a higher risk of developing another lung cancer. Having parents or siblings diagnosed with lung cancer may slightly increase one’s risk as well.
What decreases my risk?
Any factor that lowers your risk of developing a disease is known as a PROTECTIVE FACTOR. These factors do not guarantee that a disease will not develop. Different cancers have different protective factors. Possible protective factors against lung cancer are:
Smoking – The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is not to smoke and to avoid breathing in other people’s smoke.
Radon – You can reduce or eliminate your exposure to radon by having your home tested and treated, if needed.
Diet – A healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables may also reduce risk of lung cancer.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Most lung cancers do not cause any symptoms until they have spread too far to be cured, but some people with early lung cancer do have symptoms. The most common symptoms include:
- A cough that does not go away
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak
- Recurring infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia
- New onset of wheezing
Screening tests are done on persons who have no signs or symptoms of a disease.
There is no standard or routine screening test for lung cancer recommended by any major scientific or medical organization at this time.
It has not yet been shown that screening for lung cancer with either of the following tests decreases the chance of dying from lung cancer: chest x-ray and sputum cytology.
What is a chest x-ray?
A chest x-ray is an x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
What is Sputum Cytology?
Sputum cytology is a procedure in which a sample of sputum (mucus that is brought up from the lungs by coughing) is viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
Staging is the process of finding out how far a cancer has spread. Treatment and prognosis (outlook) depend, to a large extent, on the cancer’s stage. There are two types of staging:
Clinical Stage – based on the results of the physical exam, biopsies, and imaging tests (CT scan, chest x-ray, etc.).
Pathologic Stage – (for those who have had surgery) based on the same factors as the clinical stage, plus what is found as a result of the surgery.
A staging system is a standard way for the cancer care team to summarize how large a cancer is and how far it has spread. There are two staging systems that can be used to describe the extent of spread of the cancer:
Limited and extensive range – a system that divides the cancer into limited stage (the cancer is only in one lung and perhaps lymph nodes on the same side of the chest) and extensive (spread of the cancer to the other lung, lymph nodes on the other side of the chest, or to distant organs).
The TNN staging system – a formal system used to describe the growth and spread of lung cancer.
Treatment for lung cancer depends on the stage of the disease as well as other factors. If you have lung cancer, your doctor will tell you what the best treatment is for you. The main treatment options include:
Surgery – in which either an entire lung, a section of the lung, part of the lobe, or a section of an airway is removed.
Radiation Therapy – the use of high-energy rays (such as x-rays) or particles to kill cancer cells.
Chemotherapy – a treatment in which anti-cancer drugs are injected into a vein or taken by mouth. The drugs enter the bloodstream and go throughout the body.