Lung Cancer Facts Everyone Should Know
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Lung cancer is causing more deaths than colon cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer altogether combined. It is estimated that 1 in 16 people has been and will be diagnosed with lung cancer. Alarming number, isn’t it? 1
The more reason why we should learn facts about lung cancer. Here’s what you should know, any form of cancer, when diagnosed early, has a higher chance of remission. This means you should be able to recognize the early signs so you can seek treatment during the early stages. So here are some of the lung cancer facts you and everyone should know.
Lung Cancer Defined
Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the lungs. The cells in the lungs grow abnormally and may form a tumor or a mass. The tumor then affects the normal functions of the lungs, like breathing.
Early-stage lung cancer is more survivable as compared to when it’s in advanced stages and has spread to other parts of the body. But lung cancer is tricky to diagnose, especially during the early stage.
Since the lungs have few nerve endings, pain sensations are hard to come by. Some symptoms only become apparent when cancer has spread to the lungs. That’s why an annual physical check-up is always recommended rather than waiting for the signs to appear.
The Signs of Lung Cancer
In a nutshell, the symptoms of lung cancer manifested by showing signs that the normal functions of the lungs are affected. To give you an idea, here are the warning signs of lung cancer:
- Persistent coughing that doesn’t go away
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak all the time
- Coughing up blood
- Persistent pneumonia, bronchitis, or other infections
- Chest felt when coughing, laughing, or breathing deeply
- Wheezing (rattling or whistling sound in the chest when breathing)
– Loss of appetite leads to weight loss (The tumor releases hormones that make the person feel full. Also, there may be appetite-reducing symptoms like pain, persistent coughing, difficulty swallowing, nausea, stress, depression, or dehydration)
The warning signs of lung cancer may be different for everyone. Some may have persistent coughing; some may don’t. Also, some may have shortness of breath accompanied by wheezing. Some may not have a warning sign at all until cancer progresses.
The Signs of Lung Cancer When It Spreads
Like any other cancer, when it advances to later stages, it can spread to other parts of the body. As cancer spreads, the disease progresses, and other symptoms may evolve depending on the organ involved.
The cancer cells may spread to the nearby organs, more distant areas in the body, and worse, everywhere. The most common organs where the cancer cells can spread are the liver, adrenal glands, brain, or bones. Symptoms of metastasized lung cancer may include:
- Jaundice when it spreads to the liver
- Bone pain when it spreads to the bones
- Changes in balance and coordination when it spreads to the brain
- Visible lumps appear in the body when it spreads to the lymphatic system
How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?
Contrary to other people’s beliefs, lung cancer cannot be diagnosed by running blood tests. Doctors are most likely to run imaging tests to determine the presence of a tumor. So if you suspect you have the warning signs mentioned above, consult a doctor immediately. It’s nice to know all the facts about lung cancer, including diagnostic tests. Here are the diagnostic tests expected to be recommended to determine the presence of lung cancer:
- Chest X-Ray: Chest X-Ray will most likely be performed to check if there is an unusual mass in the lungs. If there is a tumor in the lungs, the chest X-Ray result will show a dense white mass.
- CT Scan: Computerized tomography CT scan is a cross-sectional imaging test. It’s more detailed than Chest X-Ray as it can detect tumors and enlarged lymph nodes.
- MRI Scan: Magnetic resonance imaging, MRI scan uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to check if cancer has spread to the brain or spinal cord.
- PET Scan: Positron Emission Tomography (PET Scan) is a more sophisticated diagnostic test to check if cancer has spread throughout the body. PET scan is also used to determine if cancer treatments are working as a monitoring procedure.2
- Bone Scan: If one of the symptoms is bone pain, the doctor will most likely order Bone Scan. The test determines if the cancer cells have spread in the bones.
- Bronchoscopy: This test is used to determine if there are blockages or tumors in the airway. If the doctor sees any abnormalities, they will take samples and do a biopsy. The biopsy will determine if the tumor is cancerous or not.
How is Lung Cancer Treated?
Lung cancer can be treated in several ways. In some cases, one treatment alone is enough, while for some, a combination of treatments is recommended. The treatment regimen depends on the severity, location, and type of cancer. Here are facts you need to know about the treatment for lung cancer:
For most early stages of lung cancer, surgery is a treatment of choice. One of the procedures is called a lobectomy. It’s the removal of the affected part of lung cancer. In short, a lobe of the lung where the cancer cell has grown will be removed. If the tumor is too close to the center of the chest, pneumonectomy will be required. Pneumonectomy is the surgical removal of a part of the lung.
This may sound complex, but this is a safe procedure. Pulmonary function tests will be performed before the surgery to ensure the lungs will be healthy enough to function even after the surgery.
Chemotherapy is another form of treatment for any type of cancer. It involves the use of drugs administered at an intravenous rate. Chemotherapy is a systematic treatment where the chemo drugs kill the cancer cells in the body within the area affected and distant tissues affected.
Chemotherapy is used in conjunction with surgery, radiation therapy, and other cancer treatments. Depending on the stage and type of cancer, chemotherapy is recommended to make the cancer cells smaller so the tumor can be more manageable to remove during surgery.
Chemotherapy used after surgery, also called adjuvant chemotherapy, is recommended to kill off remaining cancer cells that weren’t removed during surgery if any cancer cells are still present after the PET scan.
However, there’s something you should know about chemotherapy. While it kills cancer cells, it also affects healthy cells. In short, chemo drugs do not differentiate between healthy and cancer cells.
Targeted Therapy is another form of cancer treatment that uses drugs to target particular proteins and genes involved in the growth and survival of cancer tissues. Unlike chemotherapy, targeted therapy only targets cancer cells. Targeted therapy also inhibits the growth of cancer cells in the blood vessels so they won’t further spread.
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is a non-invasive cancer treatment. This is the best option for lung cancers with small tumors located at the outer edge of the lungs. The location of tumor is exposed to high-energy waves. RFA then shrinks and destroys the cancer cells and avoids further growth. RFA doesn’t have any serious side effects.
If surgery is not an option for cancer of the lungs, radiation therapy is the only treatment. The tumor’s location is exposed to external beam radiation to shrink tumors to a more manageable size. When the tumor size has shrunk, and it’s more manageable to remove, surgery is recommended. Chemotherapy may then be recommended to eliminate the remaining cancer cells.
Immunotherapy is a type of therapy for cancer to stimulate the body’s immune system so the body can be strong enough to fight off the cancer cells. In short, Immunotherapy changes how cancer cells behave. Not all lung cancer patients respond well to this type of treatment as this may come with side effects such as nausea, fatigue, constipation, or loss of appetite. 3
The treatments mentioned above are traditional cancer of the lungs treatments. You should know that there are experimental lung cancer treatments that show promising results. Examples of some experimental treatments for lung cancer are naturopathy, oral cell stem, and the more holistic approach. However, for experimental treatment, a doctor’s advice should always be sought.
That’s about it! These are the important facts you should know about lung cancer. The takeaway from this article rounds up three facts; we should all have an annual physical check-up, seek help from a doctor right away if any warning signs of lung cancer do appear, and always educate ourselves about facts of diseases in order to recognize symptoms as they appear. Of course, not to smoke! It’s always a good idea to do your research and have awareness. All you have to do is do a quick research online.