Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that start off in one or both lungs. According to WebMD, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, in the United States of America. Lung cancer causes more deaths than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer combined. This is tragic because it is one of the most preventable kinds of cancer. There are different types of lung cancer, and each has signs and symptoms, diagnostic tests and treatments for their type. There are many factors that may increase the risk of lung cancer.
Smoking, exposure to radon gas, harsh chemicals, excessive alcohol use, and family history are a few. Smoking causes the majority of lung cancers, whether it is the smoker or the people exposed to secondhand smoke. The two major types of lung cancer include small and non-small cell. Both small cell and non-small cell lung cancer affect different types of cells in the lung and spread in different ways. Small cell lung cancer is limited to a section of the chest known as the hemithorax and regional lymph.
Small cell lung cancer usually exists early and spreads out quickly. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common. It is first confined to the lung, and then spreads throughout the chest. Lung cancer typically does not cause signs and symptoms in its earliest stages, but more so when the disease is advanced. A nagging cough is one of the more common symptoms and is likely to happen when a tumor is large and blocks an air passage. Another symptom is chest, shoulder, or back pain, which feels like a constant ache that may or may not be related to coughing.
Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss, repeated pneumonia or bronchitis, coughing up blood, hoarseness, unexplained weakness in the legs, or swelling of the neck and face. Sometimes there are symptoms that seem unrelated to the lungs. The primary lung cancer may have already spread to other parts of the body. Depending on where the cancer spreads and which organs are affected, symptoms can include pain, headaches, bleeding, weakness, bone fractures, or blood clots. As a result of the large size of the lungs, cancer may grow for many years, undetected, without causing suspicion.
In fact, lung cancer can even spread outside the lungs without causing any symptoms. Early diagnosis can also be difficult because one of the most common symptoms of lung cancer, a persistent cough, is often mistaken for chronic bronchitis. Imaging test, sputum cytology, and tissue samples are three diagnostic tests that may be done to diagnose lung cancer. Imaging test are done because a chest x-ray may reveal an abnormal mass, while a CT scan can reveal small lesions in your lungs that might not be detected on an x-ray.
Sputum cytology is done if you have a cough that produces sputum. The sputum will be looked at under the microscope which may reveal the presence of lung cancer cells. During a biopsy, the physician will remove a small amount of tissue and examine it. A microscope is used to analyze cells in order to determine whether a tumor is malignant, tending to grow and spread throughout the body. There are also staging test that determines the extent of cancer. This must be done to decide what the appropriate treatment will be.
Staging tests may include CT scans, MRI’s and bone scans. There are four stages of cancer. In Stage 1 the cancer is limited to the lung and hasn’t spread, but in Stage 4 the cancer has spread beyond the affected lung to the other lung or to distant areas of the body. A diagnosis of lung cancer is devastating, but an active role in treatment will be the next important step. Treatment depends on the type of lung cancer, the size of the tumor, the location of the tumor, the stage of illness, the age of the patient, and the overall health of the patient.
Options typically include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, or drug therapy. Surgery is performed to remove the tumor if there is no chance that the cancer has spread. If the disease has spread, then treatment will often include radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is based on the use of ionizing radiation to destroy cancerous cells. It may be used before surgery to shrink a tumor. After surgery it may be used to stop the growth of any cancer cells that remain. Chemotherapy refers to drugs that are used to treat cancer.
These drugs are taken orally or intravenously and circulate throughout the bloodstream. Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells as they travel through the bloodstream and into all the organs of the body. But, because they reach all the parts of your body, they also affect normal cells. Since cancer cells usually divide faster than normal cells, they are more likely to be damaged and destroyed by these drugs. Thus the drugs may kill the cancer cells or at least control the growth and spread of the tumor. In some cases, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are used together instead of surgery.
Although there is no way to prevent lung cancer, you can reduce your risk of getting it. The best way to reduce your risk of not getting lung cancer is to not smoke or be around people who do. People should not start smoking, and those who already smoke should quit. Everyone should avoid breathing in other people’s smoke. People should find out about cancer-causing chemicals that they might be exposed to at work and take appropriate protective measures. People who live in areas where natural uranium deposits in the soil release radon gas may consider testing radon levels in their homes.