Did you know that lung and bronchus cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide? Well, things don’t stop there. Lung cancer is also responsible for 1.2 million deaths every year (1)!
Have you been ignoring the constant coughing that doesn’t seem to get better even after weeks? Or, did you cough up blood? All these symptoms that you may mistake for an infection could actually be something much more serious. Anyone can get lung cancer, but the ones who have one or more risk factors for developing the disease are more susceptible. Would you like to know more about the factors that increase your risk for lung cancer? What about the treatment options? Read on to know more.
What Is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer begins in the lungs and is one of the constantly growing causes of death in men and women. It causes the cells in your lungs to divide uncontrollably. The growth of the cancerous cells in your lungs interferes with your ability to breathe.
Lung cancer can be quite difficult to diagnose in its early stages as its symptoms might be mistaken for those of a common respiratory infection.
Older people are more affected by lung cancer than the younger lot. Most people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 years or older.
Doctors usually divide lung cancer into two main types.
Types Of Lung Cancer
There are mainly two types of lung cancer – small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer (2).
- Small Cell Lung Cancer
This type occurs exclusively in heavy smokers and is comparatively less common than non-small cell lung cancer.
- Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
This is an umbrella term used to define various types of lung cancers that behave in a particular way. These include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma forms in the outer parts of the lungs, whereas, squamous cell carcinoma forms in the cells that line the respiratory tract passage.
Signs And Symptoms
The early signs and symptoms associated with lung cancer may include (3):
- Cough that may worsen with time
- Coughing up blood or phlegm
- Pain in the chest that worsens when you breathe, laugh, or cough
- Difficulty in breathing
- Weight loss
- Appetite loss
- Recurrent respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia
As cancer progresses, other symptoms may occur, depending on the site where new tumors may have formed:
- Lymph Nodes – Appearance of lumps in the collarbone or the neck.
- Bones – Onset of bone pain in the back, hips, or ribs.
- Spine Or Brain – May result in dizziness, headaches, balance issues, or numbness.
- Liver – Yellowing eyes and skin (jaundice).
Tumors that form at the top of the lungs can affect the facial muscles. This may cause drooping of one of your eyelids, smaller pupil, or lack of perspiration on one side of your face.
Tumors can also cause swelling of the face, upper chest, neck, and arms if they end up pressing the large vein responsible for transporting blood between the head, arms, and heart.
In some cases, lung cancers create a substance similar to hormones. This substance can cause a set of symptoms called paraneoplastic syndrome. They are:
- Muscle weakness
- High blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- Fluid retention
Determining the stage of cancer can help you avail appropriate treatment for it. It also gives an insight into the extent to which cancer has spread throughout your body.
Depending on the type of lung cancer, it is classified into different stages.
Stages Of Lung Cancer
Non-small cell lung cancer is mainly divided into four stages. They are:
- Stage 1 – Cancer is found in your lung. However, it has not spread anywhere else at this stage.
- Stage 2 – Cancer can be found in the lungs as well as the nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 3 – Cancer is in the lungs as well as the lymph nodes in the middle of your chest.
- Stage 3A – Cancer can be found in the lymph nodes on the side of the chest where it first started.
- Stage 3B – Cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest or to the lymph nodes above your collarbone.
- Stage 4 – Cancer would have spread to both the lungs, the area around the lungs, and other nearby organs.
Small-cell lung cancer can be classified into two main stages:
- In the limited stage, cancer is found in just one of the lungs and the lymph nodes in the same side of your chest.
- The extensive indicates that cancer has further spread:
- All over one of the lungs
- To the other lung
- To the lymph nodes present on the opposite side
- To the fluid surrounding the lung
- To the nearby organs
- To the bone marrow
Here are some of the common causes of lung cancer and the factors that may increase your risk of developing lung cancer.
What Are The Causes And Risk factors For Lung Cancer?
While anyone can develop lung cancer, 90% of it results from smoking. The moment you inhale smoke, it begins damaging your lung tissues. While your lungs can repair this damage initially, constant exposure to smoke can interfere with the repair, thus increasing your risk of developing lung cancer.
Exposure to a naturally occurring radioactive gas called radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Other hazardous substances like arsenic, asbestos, cadmium, chromium, nickel, and uranium can also cause lung cancer upon prolonged exposure.
A few other factors can also increase your risk of developing lung cancer (4). They are:
- Breathing in second-hand tobacco smoke
- A family history of lung cancer
- Any previous personal cases of cancer
- Previous radiation therapy to the chest
As we have already mentioned, lung cancer may be quite difficult to diagnose in its early stages. If you notice any of the following signs, waste no time in seeing a doctor.
When To See A Doctor
See your doctor or healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Any of the above-mentioned symptoms of lung cancer
- A persistent cough that worsens
- Blood in your sputum (hemoptysis)
- Sudden weight loss
- Unexplained and persistent fatigue and weakness
- Deep aches and pain
Other medical emergencies are if you:
- End up coughing a large amount of blood
- Have sudden breathing difficulties
- Experience sudden onset of vision problems or weakness
- Have chest pain that is persistent and/or worsens with time
The doctor might ask you to go through one or more of the following diagnostic tests.
How To Diagnosis Lung Cancer
Once you are diagnosed with lung cancer, a team of healthcare professionals will guide you throughout your treatment and recovery. This team may include:
- A thoracic surgeon – Specializes in lung and chest diseases
- A pulmonologist – Lung specialist
- A radiation oncologist
- A medical oncologist
Your doctor will first carry out a physical examination. Following this, you may be asked to prepare for any one or more of the following tests if lung cancer is suspected (3):
- Imaging tests – Tumors can be easily detected via an X-ray, MRI, CT, and PET scans.
- Sputum cytology – Sputum that is coughed up can be examined microscopically to detect cancer cells.
- A biopsy may also be conducted once a tissue sample is collected.
Tissue samples can be obtained by:
- Bronchoscopy – A tube is passed into your throat and lungs, allowing closer examination.
- Mediastinoscopy – An incision is made at the base of the neck, followed by the insertion of a lighted instrument or surgical tool to collect samples of your lymph nodes.
- Needle – A needle is inserted into your chest wall, using imaging tests as a guide.
All the above procedures are to be performed only under medical surveillance and by a professional doctor.
Once the test samples are collected, they are sent to a pathologist for testing.
If lung cancer is detected, your doctor may then try and find out its stage. Treatment is suggested following this.
How To Treat Lung Cancer
Treatment for lung cancer can vary depending on its type. It may also vary from one person to another.
Some of the commonly availed medical treatments include (2):
- Surgery to remove the affected portion of the lung.
- Chemotherapy usually follows surgery to kill the other cancerous cells nearby. It is also availed if the affected individual is at high risk of recurrence.
- Radiation therapy that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells can also be opted for in the later stages.
- Targeted therapy – Some targeted drugs like Avastin and Cyramzanay also be prescribed to prevent the formation of new tumors.
- Immunotherapy – It uses certain drugs to boost one’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. It can be used to treat certain forms of non-small cell lung cancer.
Once you discuss your treatment options with your doctor and come up with the treatment that may suit you best, you must also discuss and be aware of the possible side effects of each treatment.
What Are The Side Effects Of Treatment?
Most cancer treatments come with a wide range of side effects. They include (5):
- Appetite loss
- Hair loss or alopecia
- Nausea and vomiting
Once you are aware of the side effects associated with the treatment you have opted for, you can discuss your options to minimize these effects.
Some individuals may be too weak or just not willing to withstand the side effects of cancer treatments. Such individuals can opt for alternative medicine therapies that can alleviate the symptoms of lung cancer.
Alternative treatments that can help in managing the symptoms of lung cancer and the side effects associated with its treatment are (6):
- Acupuncture – It involves stimulating specific points of the body with thin needles. It can help with symptoms of nausea, anxiety, pain, and depression.
- Hypnosis – This helps in elevating your focus and concentration. It can help you quit smoking while also helping to ease anxiety, nausea, and pain.
- Massage – It can help ease pain and tension and promote relaxation.
- Meditation – It helps with stress and tension that be associated with managing lung cancer.
- Yoga – The various stretching and breathing exercises that may accompany yoga poses can help relieve symptoms of pain, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Your diet also plays a significant role when it comes to combating lung cancer.
Best Diet Recommendations For Lung Cancer
Those who have lung cancer must pay special attention to their diet.
Some foods that are known to help fight lung cancer are:
- Pears And Apples – These fruits contain a phytochemical called phloretin that is known for its anti-tumor activities (7).
- Green Tea – The phenols found in green tea can assist ongoing lung cancer treatments in working better (8).
- Fatty Fish – They are rich in vitamin D and can help in inhibiting the growth of lung cancer (9).
- Ginger – It helps with the symptoms and also prevents further spread of lung cancer (10).
- Turmeric – The major component in turmeric is curcumin that can help inhibit the invasive nature of lung cancer cells (11).
- Berries – Berries like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and cranberries are loaded with anthocyanidins that can inhibit the growth of tumors (12).
You should also avoid a few foods if you are have lung cancer or any other type of cancer. They include:
- Fried and greasy foods
- High-fat red meat
- Processed or preserved foods
- Nutrient supplements
These diet tips may help in your recovery. Here are some other tips that can help you in managing lung cancer.
Tips To Manage Lung Cancer
- Quit smoking.
- Do low-intensity exercises regularly after speaking to your doctor about it.
- Follow a well-balanced diet.
- Keep a check on your weight.
- Try visiting support groups to cope with your condition better.
- Manage your stress.
- Avail palliative care.
Lung cancer is serious. But, you can decrease your risk of developing the disease to a large extent by quitting smoking. A healthy lifestyle is also a major factor in preventing as well as managing the symptoms of lung cancer.
Did you find this article helpful? Don’t forget to tell us in the comment box below.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
How long can you live after being diagnosed with lung cancer?
Depending on the stage of cancer, the affected individual may live anywhere between 2-4 months to up to 5 years.
What is the lung cancer survival rate?
When the disease is still localized, the survival rate of the affected individuals is 56%. However, most of the time, just 16% of the lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage.
Which cancer has the lowest survival rate?
Lung and bronchial cancer has the lowest survival rate and is the leading cause of death in cancer patients.
Which cancer is the easiest to cure?
Breast cancer is one of the easiest to cure, especially when detected at an early stage.
How long is the course of treatment for lung cancer?
Most people may require 4-6 courses of treatment over 3-6 months.
What percentage of smokers get lung cancer?
Active smoking is responsible for about 90% of lung cancer cases.
What are the alternatives to chemotherapy for lung cancer?
Targeted therapy is an alternative to chemotherapy for treating lung cancer. This treatment can be availed by using an immunotherapy drug called Pembrolizumab.
Is there a way to minimize the side effects of cancer treatments?
You can avoid the side effects of treatment by changing your eating patterns. You may eat 5-6 smaller meals rather than 3 bigger ones. Also, instead of drinking water along with your meals, drink water an hour before or after your meals. Complementary and alternative medicine like acupuncture, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can also help you deal with the side effects of cancer.
1. “Updated statistics of lung and bronchus cancer in United States (2018)” Journal of Thoracic Disease, US National Library of Medicine.
2. “Non-small cell lung cancer: current treatment and future advances” Translational Lung Cancer Research, US National Library of Medicine.
3. “Lung Cancer: Current Diagnosis and Treatment” Deutsches Ärzteblatt international, US National Library of Medicine.
4. “Risk factors for lung cancer worldwide” European Respiratory Journal, US National Library of Medicine.
5. “Potential Chemotherapy Side Effects” Pediatric Blood and Cancer, US National Library of Medicine.
6. “Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Cancer Pain Management: A Systematic Review” Indian Journal of Palliative Care, US National Library of Medicine.
7. “Phloretin exhibits an anticancer effect and enhances the anti-cancer ability of cisplatin on non-small cell lung cancer cell lines by regulating expression of apoptotic pathways and matrix metalloproteinases” International Journal of Oncology, US National Library of Medicine.
8. “The specific anti-cancer activity of green tea (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).” Amino Acids, US National Library of Medicine.
9. “The Role of Vitamin D in Cancer Prevention” American Journal of Public Health, US National Library of Medicine.
10. “Anti-cancer activity of Ginger (Zingiber officinale) leaf through the expression of activating transcription factor 3 in human colorectal cancer cells” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, US National Library of Medicine.
11. “New insights into therapeutic activity and anticancer properties of curcumin” Journal of Experimental Pharmacology, US National Library of Medicine.
12. “Antioxidant and anticancer properties of berries.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
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