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Lung Cancer 101

Medical record

Lung cancer is considered as one of the most dangerous types of cancer. It is characterized by two main types — non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Between the two, the small cell lung cancer is more aggressive, spreading faster than non-small cell lung cancer.

In simple terms, lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that start off in the lungs and air passages.

These abnormal cells do not develop into healthy lung tissue but instead, they divide rapidly and form tumors. When these tumors grow, they undermine the lung’s ability to provide the bloodstream with oxygen.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LUNG CANCER?

As with many cancers, most lung cancers do not show any symptoms until they have spread.

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • Cough that does not go away or gets worse
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Hoarseness
  • Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
  • New onset of wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite

LUNG CANCER RISK FACTORS

Smokers are at most risk of developing lung cancer.

In the United States, for instance, cigarette smoking is linked to about 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths. Using other tobacco products such as cigars or pipes also increases the risk of lung cancer. Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals. Many are poisons. At least 70 are known to cause cancer in people or animals.

Occasionally, early-stage lung cancer may also present some symptoms. Treatment is more likely to be effective with early detection.

People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke.

However, non-smokers are also at risk for lung cancer because of secondhand smoking. Secondhand smoke and other harmful chemicals are known causes of sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections, ear infections, and asthma attacks in infants and children. They are also known causes of heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer in adult non-smokers.

Two out of five adults are exposed to secondhand smoking, and about 7,300 people who never smoked die from lung cancer every year.

Other chemicals that are harmful include radon, a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt and can get trapped in houses and buildings.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, radon causes about 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year, making it the second leading cause of lung cancer. Asbestos, diesel exhaust and chromium are also examples of chemicals that can cause lung cancer.

Those with a family history of lung cancer can also be at risk.

LUNG CANCER TREATMENTS

The good news is there are treatments for lung cancer and there are therapeutic options available regardless of its staging when first diagnosed.

This means that high-risk individuals can be screened to help find some of these cancers early, which can lower the risk of dying from this disease.

In recent years, low-dose CAT scan or CT scan (LDCT) has been studied in people at a higher risk of getting lung cancer.

In recent years, different diagnostic tools can be used to screen for lung cancer in people at high risk for the disease.

In particular, LDCT scans can help find abnormal areas in the lungs that may be cancer. For higher-risk people, getting yearly LDCT scans before symptoms start helps lower the risk of dying from lung cancer.

Those diagnosed with advanced metastatic lung cancer may be candidates for immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is the use of medicines to stimulate a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Immunotherapy can be used to treat some forms of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).