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Lung Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, And Prevention

What is Lung Cancer?

Cancer of Lungs is called as lung cancer. It usually affects the people who smoke. However, it also affects non-smokers. Lung cancer is more common in elderly people above the age of 65 years.

Lung cancer

It affects both men and women. Lung cancer can occur in any part of the lung and cause discomfort to the patient.

Types of Lung Cancer:

Based upon the microscopic appearance of the tumor cells, lung cancer is divided into two types:

  • Small Cell Lung Cancers (SCLC)
  • Non-small Cell Lung Cancers (NSCLC)

NSCLC is again classified into three types based on the type of cells present in the cancer cells.

  • Adenocarcinomas
  • Squamous cell carcinomas
  • Large cell carcinomas

Causes and Risk factors of Lung Cancer:

Lung cancer may occur due to various causes, but the most common cause of lung cancer is smoking.  The  causes of lung cancer are discussed below:

Smoking:

Tobacco smoke consists of about 4000 carcinogenic chemicals. Smoking tobacco results in damage of lung tissue. To some extent, lung tissue is capable of repairing the damage. However, repeated smoking damages the tissue and the cells start to behave abnormally causing lung cancer.

Second Hand Smoking:

Second hand smoking or passive smoking is the inhalation of tobacco smoke by nonsmokers. There is a risk of lung cancer for the people who live and work along with smokers and get exposed to tobacco smoke.

Exposure to asbestos Fibers:

There is a risk of lung cancer for the people who are exposed to asbestos fibers at workplace. The inhaled asbestos fibers remain in lungs for lifetime and cause lung cancer. There is a high risk of lung cancer for smokers who are exposed to asbestos fibers.

Genetics:

Nonsmokers with genetic defects are at a risk of developing lung cancer. If the person inherits certain genes that interfere with DNA repair, there is a risk of developing any cancer.

Exposure to Radon Gas:

Radon gas is released as a natural decay product of uranium and enters air through soil, rock and water. Abnormally high level of radon gas is harmful and increases the risk of lung cancer.

Lung Diseases:

Certain lung diseases increase the risk of lung cancer. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pulmonary fibrosis increase the risk of developing lung cancer in nonsmokers.

Air Pollution:

Living in polluted areas and inhaling harmful chemicals increases the chances of developing lung cancer. Sources of air pollution include harmful gases released from vehicles, industry and power plants.

Exposure to Diesel Exhaust:

Diesel exhaust consists of smoke and soot which would harm the lungs. People who work as truck drivers, forklift and other heavy machinery operators, toll booth workers, railroad and dock workers, miners, farm workers, garage workers and mechanics are at the risk of getting exposed to diesel exhaust.

Medical History of Lung Cancer:

There is a risk of developing lung cancer second time after recovery from the first time. The chances of developing lung cancer are high for the survivors of lung cancer.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer:

The symptoms of lung cancer are specific to the stage of lung cancer. They are as follows:

Early symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Chest pain that worsens with deep breath, laugh, or cough
  • Coughing up phlegm or blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Worsening cough
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Wheezing

The cancer cells would spread to other sites and cause following symptoms:

  • Lymph Nodes: Lumps, on the neck or collarbone
  • Bones: Bone pain, particularly in the back, ribs, or hips
  • Brain or Spine: Headache, dizziness, balance issues, or numbness in arms or legs
  • Liver: Yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)

Paraneoplastic Syndrome, in this syndrome lung cancer, would release certain substances that resemble body hormones and cause following symptoms:

  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Fluid retention
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

Complications of Lung Cancer:

Improper management of lung cancer leads to long term complications. These include:

Shortness of Breath:

Cancer would grow and block the airways causing airflow obstruction. It also causes accumulation of fluid around lungs. Therefore, the person experiences shortness of breath.

Pain:

As the cancer advances, it invades the surrounding areas and causes pain at that site.

Pleural Effusion (Accumulation of Fluid in Chest):

Lung cancer would cause the fluid to get filled in the chest cavity and the person experiences difficulty in breathing.

Metastasis (Spread of Cancer to other Parts of Body):

Lung cancer would spread to any part of the body.  It often spreads to brain and bones.

Diagnosis of Lung Cancer:

Proper diagnosis is important for treating the signs and symptoms of lung cancer. The following are the various diagnostic approaches of lung cancer:

Physical Examination:

The physician would examine the patient physically and check for signs and symptoms of lung cancer. The patient is also asked for social habits, medical history and family history for better diagnosis.

Sputum Cytology:

A sputum sample is collected from the patient and is microscopically examined for the presence of cancer cells.

Imaging Studies:

For better assessment and understanding the doctor recommends following imaging studies:

X-ray:  Chest X-ray is done for detecting the presence of an abnormal mass.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan: In this procedure, the doctor would give a contrast substance by mouth or through an intravenous line to facilitate the clear examination of the lungs. A CT scan uses X-rays to create a detailed image of lungs and also detect abnormal cells in lungs.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): In this test, the doctor injects a dye into the patient’s veins. An MRI uses powerful radio waves and magnetic fields to obtain a detailed image of the lungs which may help to detect abnormal mass in the lungs.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET): It is a non-invasive and painless procedure that helps in disease diagnosis and treatment evaluations.  This procedure helps to detect cellular level changes and identify certain diseases even before the onset of symptoms.  It consists of a table which is connected to a large scanner, camera and computer to create clear images.

Lung Biopsy:

During this procedure, the doctor removes a small amount of lung tissue which is sent to a laboratory for microscopic testing.

The doctor would obtain the sample tissue using a needle, bronchoscopy and mediastinoscopy.

Lung Cancer Treatment:

After the diagnosis of lung cancer is made the patient is treated with the team of doctors. That include:

  • Thoracic surgeon (specialized in lungs and chest)
  • Pulmonologist (lung specialist)
  • Medical oncologist
  • Radiation oncologist

The following are various treatment approaches used in the treatment of lung cancer:

Surgery:

The surgeon would remove the cancerous lung tissue and also nearby healthy tissue.

Wedge resection is done to remove small section of lung containing tumor.

Segmental resection is done to remove larger portion of the lung.

Lobectomy is done to remove a complete lobe of the lung.

Pneumonectomy is done to remove an entire lung.

Radition Therapy:

This therapy uses high energy beams to kill the cancer cells. The patient is made to lie on the table and radiation is applied on the targeted regions to destroy cancer cells.

For some cases, the doctor would give radiation therapy before and after the chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy:

Chemotherapy includes treatment with anti-cancer drugs that are given orally or as an injection. The patient is given single or combination drugs for few weeks to months.

This therapy is often combined with radiation therapy and surgery to kill any leftover cancer cells.

Radiosurgery:

It is a type of intense radiation treatment and the cancer cells are killed using many beams of radiation from different angles.

Targeted Drug Therapy:

The drugs target and blocks the abnormalities present in the cancer cells, thereby killing the cancer cells.

Cancer cells may be tested in laboratory to confirm if these drugs can be used effectively.

Immunotherapy:

Immunotherapy uses body’s immune system to fight against cancer. This therapy would interfere with the various immune processes that attack the cancer cells and destroys them.

Palliative Care:

Supportive care or palliative care is the special area of medicine used to minimize side effects and symptoms of cancer.

The patient is recommended with palliative care before and after the cancer treatment.

Prevention of Lung Cancer:

Certain precautionary measures help in preventing lung cancer to some extent. The following measures help in reducing the risk of lung cancer:

  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid carcinogenic agents at work place
  • Avoid passive smoking
  • Detect and get rid of radon gas
  • Eat balanced and nutritious food
  • Exercise regularly

News on Lung Cancer

New Tech to Discover Lunch Cancer Easily

– 28th Nov 2018

In a new study by the University of California, researchers have developed a new technology that identifies and detects people suffering from lung cancer at a very early stage. This technology is called the electric field induced release and measurement (EFIRM) and has the capability of detecting any sort of mutations associated with lung cancer.

Lung cancer is dangerous because it is not detected in its early stage, EFIRM is all set to detect the disease in its curable stage. So how does this new technology work? Well, this new tech tests saliva or the blood of the disease at a very early stage and identifies cancer mutations.

This new tech is also affordable as it just uses your blood or saliva as a form of the sample to detect lung cancer. This will help save thousands of lives worldwide and all thanks to the researchers at the University of California.

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