What is Lung Cancer: Symptoms, Types, Causes, Treatment, & Diagnosis

What is Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a malignant form of lung tumour that is characterised by uncontrolled growth of cells in the lung tissues. This uncontrolled growth spreads beyond the lung into nearby tissue or other body parts through the process of metastasis.

Table of Contents

Feel free to skip ahead if one topic catches your eye:

  1. What is Lung Cancer?
  2. Lung cancer staging
  3. Common Causes of lung Cancer
  4. Signs and Symptoms
  5. Diagnosis
  6. Treatment

Takeaway


1. What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is a severe health condition that results from abnormal cell growth in the lining of the lungs that leads to the growth of a malignant (cancerous) tumour. This health condition may affect anyone, irrespective of their age, gender, or ethnicity. However, an estimated 90 percent of lung cancer cases are because of smoking.

Lung tissue starts getting damaged as we inhale smoke into the lungs. This damage can be repaired by the lungs but continued exposure to smoke can make it increasingly tedious for our lungs to work on the healing and recovery aspects. Once the lung cells are damaged, abnormal activities happen that increase the odds of developing lung cancer. Lung cancer can also happen when we are exposed to substances such as Radon, uranium, chromium, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, or certain petroleum products.

If your doctor has diagnosed you with lung cancer, you will be managed by a team of doctors who may include:

  • pulmonologist (a lung cancer specialist doctor )
  • A surgeon who has expertise in the lungs and chest (thoracic surgeon)
  • a radiation oncologist
  • a medical oncologist

2. Lung cancer staging

What type of lung cancer is there? How many stages in lung cancer are there? Lung cancer stages refer to the extent and severity to which the disease has spread to other body parts. Staging is helpful for determining how the health condition should be treated. 

Small-cell lung cancer

  • Limited-stage: cancer that is confined to the chest area
  • Extensive-stage: cancer that has spread to other body parts

Non-small-cell lung cancer

  • Stage I: Cancer that is confined to only the lung
  • Stage II: Cancer that is confined to only the chest
  • Stage III: cancer confined to the chest but with more aggressive and larger tumours than at Stage II
  • Stage IV: cancer that has spread to other body parts

3. Common Causes of lung Cancer

Smoking (active or passive) is associated with approximately 90 percent of lung cancer deaths. Pre-existing lesions such as pulmonary fibrosis is also linked with an increase in the risk of lung cancer. 

Other causes of lung cancer include inhalation of asbestos fibers and other cancer-causing substances (generally in the workplace) or air pollution (from industry, vehicles, and power generation).

4. Signs and Symptoms

The common signs and symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • Chronic chest pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Feelings of weakness and tiredness
  • Joint and body pain accompanied by headache
  • Lung infections like pneumonia or bronchitis that would not go away
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of the arms, face, or neck
What is Lung Cancer

5. Diagnosis

How to detect lung cancer? Your doctor may recommend a variety of diagnostic tests and procedures such as:

  • Imaging studies (CT, PET, and bone scans; chest x-rays)
  • Blood tests
  • Biopsy (lung tissue sampling during surgery or with a special biopsy needle to ascertain if it is cancerous in nature)
  • Bronchoscopy (to view inside the airways and collect tissue samples)
  • Cytological studies of bronchial washings and sputum (to identify cancerous cells in lung fluids and phlegm)

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6. Treatment

Lung cancer treatments primarily include surgical removal of cancer. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy along with targeted therapies and immunotherapy treatments may also be recommended by your surgeon. The decision of any lung cancer treatment should be taken by keeping in consideration the severity, extent, and location of the tumour and the general and overall health of the patient.

Surgery: Surgical tumour removal is routinely prescribed by doctors for limited-stage (stage I or sometimes stage II) NSCLC. Surgery is the first-line choice for lung cancer treatments that have not yet spread beyond your lungs. During the procedure, the surgeon will open the chest wall before performing a wedge resection of the lungs (removal of a part of one lobe), pneumonectomy (removal of an entire lung), or a lobectomy (removal of one lobe). Lymph nodes in the region of the lungs can be removed by lymphadenectomy.

Radiation: Radiation therapy can be used for treating Small-cell lung cancer and Non-small-cell lung cancer. During this procedure, high-energy x-rays are used to kill dividing cancerous cells. It may be performed as palliative therapy (through low radiation doses than with curative therapy), curative therapy, or as adjuvant therapy in combination with chemotherapy or surgery. Radiation is delivered either internal, through the placement of radioactive substances within the body, where the tumour is localised or externally by using a machine that directs radiation towards cancer.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be prescribed by the surgeon for treating Small-cell lung cancer and Non-small-cell lung cancer. During this procedure, your doctor will administer drugs that inhibit the growth of cancerous cells by preventing or killing them. It may be administered in combination with radiotherapy or alone as an adjuvant to surgical therapy.

Targeted therapy: Your doctor may recommend molecular targeted therapy that includes the administration of drugs that work in subsets of patients whose tumours have specific genetic changes that have the potential of promoting tumour growth.

The following are the approximate five-year survival rates for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) by Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) stage:

  • Localised: 60 percent
  • Distant: 6 percent
  • Regional: 33 percent
  • All SEER stages: 23 percent

On the other hand, the five-year survival rate is 14 percent for limited-stage small-cell lung cancer (SCLC).

At Sabyasachi Bal, you will get the best treatment from highly experienced doctors/surgeons with the latest training and techniques.

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Takeaway

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer and looking for the best lung cancer treatment options, it is best to consult professionals like Dr. Sabyasachi Bal, the Director of the Department of Thoracic Surgery and Thoracic Surgical Oncology at Fortis, Vasant Kunj. 

A pioneer in diagnostic and therapeutic thoracoscopic procedures, Dr. Bal has numerous peer-reviewed scientific publications to his name and his expertise includes thoracic surgery, foregut surgery, and thoracoscopic surgery.


References

1^ Diagnosis | Southerncross.co.nz | December 24, 2020

2^ Treatment | Healthline.com | December 24, 2020

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