Overview of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is a cancer that originates in the lungs. This type of cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths. The people at greatest risk are people that smoke, but it can also occur in people that do not smoke. You are at higher risk if you have smoked for many years. If you quit smoking, your risk for lung cancer is drastically reduced.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
In the beginning stages of lung cancer, there are no real symptoms that are evident. You may not experience symptoms until later. Some symptoms include: coughing, coughing up blood, headache, hoarseness, losing weight, bone pain, chest pain, or shortness of breath. You will want to schedule a time to see your physician if you experience any of these symptoms. You will also want to see your physician if you smoke and are unable to quit.
Causes of Lung Cancer
The main cause of lung cancer is smoking, whether through smoking or through secondhand smoke. Lung cancer can also occur in people that have never smoked and there is no real cause of lung cancer. Smoking causes cancer because it damages the cells that line the lungs. When you begin to smoke, you inhale carcinogens, which immediately begin to change the cells in the lungs. In the beginning, your body will attempt to repair the damage that has occurred, but with each time that you smoke, the cells become increasingly damaged.
Types of Lung Cancer
There are two main types of lung cancer, which are classified based on appearance of the lung cancer cells under the microscope. Your physician will choose treatment based on which type of lung cancer that you have.
Small cell lung cancer is most often seen in heavy smokers. On the other hand, non-small cell lung cancer is a term used for many types of lung cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.
Risks of Lung Cancer
There are a few different risk factors that can be seen with lung cancer. Smoking puts you at the largest risk for lung cancer. The risk increases the longer and more you smoke. Quitting at any stage will reduce the risk of lung cancer. If you are not a smoker, but are around someone who frequently smokes, you are also at a high risk for lung cancer.
If you have been exposed to radiation therapy, radon gas, asbestos, or other carcinogens, you are also at a high risk.
People with a family history of lung cancer are also at a high risk.
Complications with Lung Cancer
There are many complications that can be associated with lung cancer. Shortness of breath occurs when the cancer grows and begins to block major airways or if the lung cancer causes fluid to accumulate around the lungs.
Lung cancer can oftentimes lead to bleeding in the airways, which cause you to cough up blood. Treatments are available to treat the bleeding if the bleeding becomes severe.
Advanced lung cancer can cause pain, especially when it has spread to the lining of the lung or to other parts of the body. There are treatments to help with the pain as well.
Pleural effusion, or fluid in the chest, can cause shortness of breath and can occur again.
Lung cancer oftentimes spreads to other parts of the body, such as the bones or the brain. This spreading can cause headaches, nausea, pain, or other signs that an organ has been affected.
Diagnosis of Lung Cancer
If you are at a high risk of lung cancer, for example, if you are over the age of 55 and have smoked heavily for at least 15 years, then your physician may recommend annual computerized tomography (CT) scans to check your lungs.
An imaging test may be the first test that is ordered. An x-ray or CT scan will be able to see if there are any masses on your lungs.
A sputum cytology is done by coughing, producing sputum, and looking at this sputum under the microscope.
A biopsy of the tissue in question may also be done, through a bronchoscopy or a variety of other types of testing.
Once the cancer has been diagnosed, your physician will want to stage the cancer. This can be done through a CT or positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Ask your physician which option is best for you.
Treatment of Lung Cancer
The treatment that is chosen for you will depend on your health and the stage of cancer. Surgery may be recommended to remove the piece of lung that has been affected. This is typically the best option if the cancer is confined to your lungs.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams to kill the cancer cells. During this, you will lie on a table while the radiation hits the precise location. Radiation can also be used in addition to surgery and can be combined with chemotherapy treatments, which are a drug used to kill cancer.
Prevention of Lung Cancer
The best way to prevent lung cancer is to not smoke, quit smoking, or remove yourself from people that smoke. If you currently smoke, then it is time to quit. If you need help quitting, your physician will be happy to help you find a path to quitting that works for you. When you quit, the risk of lung cancer drastically drops. You may want to look at cessation tools such as medications, support groups, or replacement products. If you live or work with a smoker, work with that person to quit or avoid them when they are smoking. If you go to places where people smoke, stop going there.
If you live in an area where radon is a problem, then have the radon levels in your home checked. This will make your home safer and will reduce the risk of lung cancer.
It is essential to avoid carcinogens as best as possible, especially when you are work. Always wear a mask when around these chemicals. Ask your physician for recommendations if you need help.
Lastly, it is so important to take care of yourself through diet and exercise.