What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer occurs when the tissue cells in the lung are growing at an unusually fast rate, causing a tumor to form. Your lungs help you breathe and provide oxygen to the rest of your body. According to WHO, lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death. Lung cancer is disabling, leading to poor quality of life.
There are several types of lung cancer, but the most common types are named after the size of the cells in the cancer tumor.
- Small cell lung cancer (SCLC): This means the cancer cells look small under the microscope. This is pretty rare, about 1 in 8 people with lung cancer has small cell cancer. This type of lung cancer can grow and develop fast.
- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): This means the cancer cells are bigger than those in small cell lung cancer. More people have this type of lung cancer (about 7 out of 8). They don’t develop as fast as small cell lung cancer, thus the treatment for this type is different.
Other less common types of non-small cell lung cancer are: pleomorphic, carcinoid tumor, salivary gland carcinoma, and unclassified carcinoma.
How common is lung cancer?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lung cancer is one of the leading cause of death, causing 1.59 million deaths in 2012. This number is expected to increase over the next decade. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
While most symptoms of lung cancer happen in the lung, it is possible that you might experience symptoms elsewhere on your body. This is because the cancer have spread (medically called metastasized) to other body parts. The severity of these symptoms also differs. Some might not even feel symptoms or just feel generally tired. Some of the symptoms that you should look out for are:
- Chest discomfort or pain;
- A cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse over time;
- Trouble breathing;
- Blood in sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs);
- Trouble swallowing;
- Loss of appetite;
- Weight loss for no known reason;
- Feeling very tired;
- Inflammation or congestion in the lungs;
- Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) inside the chest in the area between the lungs.
Lung cancer is a serious condition that can lead to serious complications. Lung cancer can cause complications, such as:
- Shortness of breath;
- Coughing up blood;
- Pain can be caused by advanced lung cancer;
- Fluid in the chest (pleural effusion);
- Cancer that spreads to other parts of the body (metastasis).
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes lung cancer?
Lung cancer can develop because of toxins that get into the lung voluntarily or not. The most common cause is smoking cigarette, pipes, or cigars. The risk of lung cancer from smoking increases for as long as the person smokes. Fortunately, the risk can be lowered if they stop smoking.
What increases my risk for lung cancer?
There are many risk factors for health condition, such as:
- Used to, or currently smoking.
- Second hand smoke.
- Having family member with lung cancer.
- Having radio therapy for other conditions that can affect the chest area.
- Having contacted with toxins such as asbestos, chromium, nickel, arsenic, soot, or tar in the workplace.
- Being exposed to radon in the home or workplace.
- Living in polluted environment.
- Having weak immune system from genetic or by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- Using beta carotene supplements and being a heavy smoker.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is lung cancer diagnosed?
To find out if lung cancer may be present, the doctor evaluates your symptoms and performs a physical exam, such as listening to your breathing, to see if there might be a tumor in your chest. Then they will ask about your medical history, if you have smoked or if anyone in the family smoke. They might also ask about your working environment to see if you are exposed to smoke or other toxins that may harm your lungs.
To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will request some tests. These might simply be imaging tests (spiral CT scan, PET scan) to see your lungs, or lab test called sputum cytology to identify the tumor. Imaging test will show a spot on the photo if you have a tumor. While sputum cytology will check a sample of the mucus coughed up from your lungs for cancer cells. You can ask your doctor to point it out to you if you don’t know how to read the test results.
For the most certain result, your doctor might request a biopsy. A Biopsy means the doctor will take a small sample of lung tissue to look at under the microscope for cancer cells. There are several methods to obtain the sample:
- Bronchoscopy. Using a thin tube through the mouth or nose down to the lung to take the sample.
- Needle aspiration. Inserting a small needle through the skin to your chest to take a small cell sample. Your doctor will numb the area before so it wont hurt.
- Thoracentesis. Also using a needle, but instead of taking the cells from your lung, the doctor will take the fluid surrounding the lungs to check for cancer cells.
- Thoracotomy. This is a major surgery to diagnose lung cancer, often only used when no other method of diagnosis and treatment work.
How is lung cancer treated?
Lung cancer is treated in several ways, depending on the type of lung cancer and how far it has spread. People with non-small cell lung cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments. People with small cell lung cancer are usually treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
- Surgery. An operation where doctors cut out cancer tissue.
- Chemotherapy. Using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
- Radiation therapy. Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer.
- Targeted therapy. Using drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins.
The treatment that’s right for you depends mainly on the type and stage of lung cancer. You may receive more than one type of treatment.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage lung cancer?
Quit smoking immediately
The first thing you should do after getting a lung cancer diagnosis is get rid of the cigarette pack. Stop smoking immediately. If you have lung cancer from second hand smoke, you should talk to the person who smoke and tell them to quit for their sake and yours as well. If you are exposed to toxins from work, talk to the manager or your boss about the condition to make adjustment for yourself, and to make sure that no one else gets sick because of it.
Managing pain is the most important part of lung cancer management. You may be given medication to treat pain. When you use medication, you need to use them as soon as pain appears. You can ask your doctor for therapies to treat lung cancer pain and self-care methods to control pain. You need to remember that it is possible to control pain or even make them go away.
Other pain treatments may be helpful:
- Relaxation techniques;
- Physical therapy;
- Hot and/or cold packs;
- Exercise and massage.
In addition, support from family, friends and a support group are great mental help for you to manage pain after cancer treatment.
Managing shortness of breath
You use your lung to breathe. Therefore, it’s obvious that you will face difficulty breathing when you have lung cancer. There are some methods that you can use to manage shortness of breath:
- Breathing techniques. These techniques are designed to help you breath easily and they are used for many people who have shortness of breath, not just from lung cancer. These techniques can also calm you down and help you relax.
- Oxygen therapy. Breathing pure oxygen can make sure that your lung doesn’t need to work as hard to supply oxygen for the blood. Thus, it can calm your breathing.
- Managing fluid around the lungs.The fluid around the lungs might press on your lungs and make it hard for you to breathe. In these cases, the fluid is drained out to help you breathe easier.
No matter how old you are or if you have any disease or not, exercise and healthy diet will always be the bedrock for a healthy body. Try to exercise as much as you can, but don’t overdo yourself. Learn how to control your breathing during exercise is important with lung cancer patients.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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Review Date: July 17, 2017 | Last Modified: July 18, 2017