Lung Cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the lungs and may spread to other parts of the body. Lung cancer is a particularly deadly form of cancer, and is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the world.
Lung cancer is primarily caused by smoking. Although you can get lung cancer without ever having smoked, 9 out of 10 lung cancer diagnoses are attributed to smoking.
Lung cancer is divided into two main types: small cell lung cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer. Treatment may differ depending on the lung cancer diagnosis.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer can be treated effectively if caught early. This is good news as NSCLC diagnoses make up about 80-85% of cancer cases. There are different types of NSCLC depending on where in the lungs the cancer is found. Some of the different types of NSCLC are:
- Squamous cell lung carcinoma: This type of cancer is named for the type of cell found in the respiratory tract.
- Adenocarcinomas: This type of NSCLC cancer is named after the type of cancer that starts in the outer rim of the lungs.
- Adenocarcinoma in situ (AIS): This is a sub-type of Adenocarcinomas. This rare cancer is found in the lung’s air sacs. It is non-aggressive and patients may be able to delay treatment.
- Adenosquamous carcinoma: This is a mixture of squamous and mucus-producing cells.
- Large-cell carcinoma: This category makes up all other NSCLCs that cannot be classified into other types.
Small Cell Lung Cancer
About 15-20% of lung cancer cases are diagnosed as Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC). Unfortunately, this type of cancer is very aggressive and is less likely to be cured.
This type of lung cancer is found in hormone-producing cells. Mesothelioma is strongly associated with asbestos exposure. It is an aggressive form of cancer that is difficult to treat.
Lung cancer is strongly associated with smoking. This includes cigarettes, cigars, or pipes.
Tobacco contains many toxic substances and tobacco smoke is very damaging to the lungs. Tobacco smoke begins to damage the lungs instantly once inhaled.
The risk of lung cancer increases the more a patient smokes. Quitting smoking can reverse some of the damage.
Some people who get diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked at all. Many of these people had exposure to second-hand smoke.
Most people are exposed to second-hand smoke in their homes or workplace. If someone is smoking or burning tobacco products around another person they are exposing that person to many dangerous chemicals. Smoking is now banned in most public settings.
Inhaling radon can also lead to lung cancer. This is a common cause of cancer for non-smokers. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is colorless and odorless.
Radon is not usually a concern in outdoor areas. However, some homes can become contaminated with radon. Radon occurs from the natural decay of uranium in soil. Homes can trap radon and it can cause a buildup, although this is not common. The only way to know for sure is to test for radon.
Lung cancer can also be caused by exposure to asbestos and other toxic chemicals. There is a particular form of cancer that is associated with asbestos exposure called mesothelioma.
Having a family history of lung cancer predisposes you to the illness.
Having been treated with any form of radiation therapy increases the risk of lung cancer.
Early lung cancer may be asymptomatic or cause mild symptoms. Some symptoms to watch out for include:
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing, especially coughing up phlegm or blood
- Back pain or chest pain
- Hoarse voice or wheezing
- Weakness and fatigue
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Recurring respiratory infections
As cancer progresses symptoms may worsen. Late-stage cancer symptoms include:
- Difficulty with balance and mobility
- Numbness in arms or legs
Most lung cancer patients will undergo surgery to remove tumors. Along with surgery, many patients will have chemotherapy or radiation treatment to kill cancer cells.
If cancer is caught early, surgery can be successful in removing the tumors. Cancer treatment is most successful when it is diagnosed early.
Some of the drugs used to treat non-small cell lung cancer are:
A drug used to treat small cell lung cancer is:
Chemotherapy is a frequently recommended treatment for many types of lung cancer. Chemotherapy drugs can be taken orally or injected into the bloodstream.
Chemotherapy drugs kill fast-growing cancer cells. However, it can also damage other cells in a patient’s body, leading to many negative side effects.
Common side effects of chemotherapy include hair loss, nausea, reduced appetite, mouth sores, issues with digestion, fatigue, and increased risk of bruising or bleeding. Chemotherapy treatment can also suppress the immune system making patients more prone to infection.