Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in men and women, ranking second to breast cancer and the most common cause of death from cancer. There are two types; small cell lung cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer. There are about 221,200 new diagnoses made for lung cancer in the United States each year.
The survival rate for lung cancer is better with early diagnosis and treatment and the good news is there are 430,000 still alive today that have been successfully treated for lung cancer. This article will help you understand more about lung cancer and how it can be managed with good medical care and healthy lifestyle choices.
The lungs are the organs in the chest that process the air you breathe. They exchange oxygen to send to the body and release carbon dioxide from the body. Lung cancer begins in the cells of the sponge-like tissue that takes care of this process.
It is most common in smokers and former smokers, but anyone can get lung cancer. The more and longer you have smoked, the higher the risk. After quitting smoking, the risk begins to drop down.
Lung cancer is treatable if caught early and the risk of death from lung cancer goes up if treatment is delayed.
The number one cause for lung cancer is smoking and exposure to second hand smoke. This is the cause of 80% of deaths due to lung cancer and the biggest risk factor for getting lung cancer. However, non-smokers can also get lung cancer so other factors come into play such as:
Radon gas exposure
Second hand smoke in the home or car
Changes in the DNA of cells
Also, smokers with another one of the above factors such as; asbestos or radon gas exposure are at a serious high risk of developing lung cancer.
Lung cancer may not have any symptoms at all in the early stages. Once symptoms begin, the cancer may have spread beyond the lungs. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential. If you have any of the below symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible. These include:
Cough that doesn’t clear up with time or treatment
Recurrent infections (pneumonia, bronchitis)
Shortness of breath
Blood in phlegm
Chest pain with breathing
After the cancer spreads, symptoms may include:
Swollen lymph nodes
Jaundice (yellow skin)
Lung cancer can cause a few different syndromes and the symptoms of these are:
Horner Syndrome. This occurs when the cancer is in the top of the lungs. Tumors put pressure on the nerve in the upper chest and neck causing:
One smaller pupil
No sweating on that side of the face
Superior Vena Cava Syndrome. Tumors near the superior vena cava can cause swelling in the upper chest, face, neck, and arms. Other symptoms include; feeling dizzy, headaches, and loss of consciousness. This syndrome can be life-threatening since it supplies blood to the brain.
Paraneoplastic Syndromes. Tumors formed in lung cancer can produce hormone substances that disrupt the hormone balance in the body. It can disrupt the anti-diuretic hormone in the kidneys causing too much salt loss in the body. It can also disrupt the adrenal glands and cause Cushing syndrome. Lung cancer can also raise the blood calcium levels too high, blood clotting disorders and breast growth in males.
If you have any of the above symptoms, see your doctor. They will do a thorough physical examination and most likely order the following tests:
X-Rays. An x-ray can show any abnormalities or masses in the lungs.
CT Scan. A CT scan is more sensitive than x-ray and can show smaller lesions.
Sputum Cytology. The doctor may take a small sample of phlegm and send it to the lab to be checked under a microscope.
Biopsy. If any of the above tests are positive, the doctor may order a lung biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, the doctor will find out what stage it is at in order to plan treatment and care. This will involve more testing including; CT scanning, MRI, and PET Scans. These scans will check to see if the cancer is localized to the lung, growing, or spreading to other parts of the body. The stages are:
Stage I The tumor or lesions are within the lung tissue and have not yet spread to the lymph nodes. Lesions are less than 5 centimeters in size.
Stage II The lesion or tumor is now larger than 5 centimeters and/or growing into the chest wall, diaphragm, or pleura (lining). It may or may not have entered any lymph nodes surrounding the lungs at this time.
Stage III By stage 3, the tumor is now outside the lung tissue and cancer cells can be found in lymph nodes outside the chest area. Lung cancer cells may be found in other organs.
Stage IV Lung cancer cells are found far away from the lungs in distant organs, tissues, or lymph nodes.
Prognosis by Stage – 5 Year Survival Rate
Stage I – 49%
Stage II – 30%
Stage III – 14%
Stage IV – 1%
Treatment for lung cancer largely depends on the stage the cancer is at. If it is found at a later more severe stage, the treatment needs to be more aggressive. Treatments for lung cancer are:
Surgery – Lobectomy, removal of the lobe of lung; segmentectomy, removal of a wedge of the lung; pneumonectomy, removal of the entire lung.
Targeted Therapy – Medications that block the cancer cells growth and activity
Anti-Angiogenesis Therapy – Stops the production of new blood vessels that “feed” tumors
Lung Cancer Treatment by Stage
Stage I and Stage II. When a tumor or lesion is first found at stage I or stage II in the lungs, doctors will perform surgical removal of the lesion. If there is more than one tumor or lymph node involvement chemotherapy may be used prior to surgery. If surgery is not possible, doctors may use radiation at these stages.
Stage III. At this stage if the cancer has spread, surgery is not recommended at first. They perform chemotherapy first to slow the growth of the cancer, then radiation therapy. They can even be done at the same time, but this can have severe side-effects. If chemo and radiation are successful in shrinking tumors, the doctor may go ahead with surgery.
Stage IV. Surgery is not usually recommended at this stage. Radiation is not usually used at this point. Doctors opt to treat this stage with aggressive doses of chemotherapy, which will not cure the cancer but slow the growth to give the patient more time.
Palliative Care. Palliative care is complimentary care for symptoms of cancer and side-effects of treatments. These treatments include; dietary adjustments, pain medications, anti-nausea medications, relaxation methods, and emotional support.
Hospice Care. If cancer comes back or spreads to most of the body and the patient is given a six month window to live, hospice may be recommended. They provide care for patients and family at the end of life. They help with pain relief, emotional support, and final arrangements.
There are no known herbal remedies that will cure lung cancer. There are some complementary treatments that may help with side-effects of medical treatments. These include:
Acupuncture. Needles are inserted into points on the body to help decrease pain and side-effects. Make sure you discuss this with your doctor and find a reputable practitioner.
Massage Therapy. Getting a massage can help reduce anxiety levels and pain. There are some massage therapists with special training in cancer work.
Meditation. There are meditation groups that specifically deal with cancer. Meditation can help with relaxation and healing thoughts. Ask your local community hospital for any groups in your area.
Yoga. Yoga can be a gentle form of exercise for your body. It can also help stretch sore and tired muscles and increase oxygen levels to your body. Ask your doctor if this would be a good part of your treatment plan.
If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, give your body what it needs to fight. The following lifestyle changes can help improve your quality of life:
Quit Smoking. Quitting smoking right away reduces the factors that make the cancer grow and spread. It can also help you with breathing better if your lungs are already damaged.
Manage Stress. If you are overstressed your immune system will have a hard time fighting the cancer. Find ways to reduce stress in your life.
Eat Healthy. Talk to your doctor about a good diet for dealing with cancer. A dietician can help you with a diet plan that gives you the right nutrients and easy to eat if you have side-effects from chemo or radiation.
Get Enough Rest. Your body needs all the energy it can get to fight off cancer. Pace your activities and rest when you feel tired. Don’t overdo activities or push yourself.
Create a Support System. Gather people around you for support and talk about your feelings. Ask for help with household duties if you need it. Find people who will be willing to drive you to treatments and medical appointments. If you don’t have enough help, ask your doctor for community based referrals.
Lung cancer complications include:
Need for Supplemental Oxygen. If lung cancer takes over too much of the airways, you may need supplemental oxygen to help you breath. You may also get excess fluid in the lungs causing repeated lung infections.
Blood in Sputum. The airways may become inflamed due to cancer and bleed. You notice that you cough up blood at times. It can be severe and treatment may be needed right away.
Fluid Outside the Lungs. Fluid can build up outside the lungs in the pleural space. This can make it hard to breathe. Doctors may need to insert a drain to help clear the fluids.
Spread of Cancer. This is known as “metastasis” and it can go into the liver, brain, bones, and other organs and tissues. Once this happens the cancer is not able to be cured.
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