In this article, you’ll get everything you need to know about lung cancer.
Lung cancer is a type of cancer that develops from the cells of the lungs. There are many types of lung cancer, but the most common ones are small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Statistically, lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer in both sexes if we exclude skin cancer. An estimated 228,150 new cases of lung cancer appeared in the US in 2019. Also, about 142,670 people died from lung cancer in the same year. Prostate and breast cancer, in men and women, respectively, are the most common types of cancers. However, with the current screening programs and therapeutic procedures, they both are manageable, when identified early. Therefore, lung cancer becomes the leading cause of cancer death among both sexes.
What are the risk factors for lung cancer?
Undoubtedly, the most robust risk factor for lung cancer is tobacco smoking. However, some other behaviors or particles may put an individual at high risk too. The following are some of the most well-known risk factors for developing lung cancer:
- Tobacco smoking. Smoking, active or passive, can put you at a very high risk for developing and dying from lung cancer.
- Secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is not harmless. It is almost as dangerous as active smoking. It refers to the smoke you inhale from another’s cigarette, pipe, or any other tobacco product.
- Exposure to cancerogenic agents. Radon, asbestos, and other agents such as arsenic, put you at significant risk for developing lung cancer. You may inhale radon and asbestos in your home or workplace, without realizing it. You can expose yourself to arsenic through drinking water.
- Radiation therapy. Previous radiation therapy on the chest for another cancer raises your risk for lung cancer.
- Family history of lung cancer. Genetics is closely related to many types of cancer. Lung cancer is one of them. Having first degree relatives with the disease increases your chances of developing lung cancer.
- Personal history of lung cancer. If you had lung cancer in the past, you have more chances to develop it again.
What causes lung cancer?
There isn’t a definitive cause of lung cancer. Scientists aren’t sure what makes healthy cells cancerous. It is well-established that particular gene mutations may alter the DNA of a lung cell, transforming it into a cancerous one. Keep in mind that cancer starts from one single cell, and then it spreads and grows. Two kinds of genes may interfere with that capacity; these are oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Some changes leading to mutations are inherited while others are acquired. Another very significant cause of lung cancer is tobacco smoking. Tobacco smoking accounts for 80% of all lung cancers. Although it is a risk factor, research shows that it can mathematically lead to lung cancer.
Sign and symptoms of lung cancer
Most commonly, lung cancer does not present with any symptoms, until it gets big enough or it spreads. However, some people experience early lung cancer signs and symptoms. The key to deal with and overcome lung cancer is early detection, diagnosis, and staging. Therefore, knowing when something is wrong is very important because it alerts people to consult their doctor. Some of the most common symptoms of lung cancer are the following:
- Persistent and progressive coughing
- Coughing with blood
- Chest pain
- Hoarseness of the voice
- Losing weight without trying
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue and weakness
- Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
- Resistant or relapsing lung infections
- Bone pain, nervous system changes, and jaundice if there’s a metastasis
- Swelling of the lymph nodes, if there is metastasis.
It is common for lung cancers to cause some syndromes. These are Horner, superior vena cava, and paraneoplastic syndromes. They usually appear in certain types of cancers, and they don’t present always.
How do you diagnose and treat lung cancer?
To diagnose lung cancer, your doctor will ask some questions regarding your lifestyle and health history, to establish whether you have risk factors. Your doctor will also ask you about your symptoms. Following that, you might undergo a physical examination. Some imaging tests will be necessary to visualize the tumor. Some more specialized tests to diagnose lung cancer are the following:
- Sputum cytology
- Needle biopsy
After you undergo all the necessary procedures, your doctor will establish the stage of your disease. According to your current health status, history, and staging results, your physician will discuss with you your treatment options. You might need to undergo surgery to remove the cancer tissue from your lungs, or radiation therapy to shrink or kill the cancer cells. Another option is chemotherapy, a drug-based treatment that may shrink or kill your cancer too. Finally, there’s targeted therapy with medication that blocks the growth and spread of your tumor. Your doctor might also suggest combining two or more of these treatments.
How to prevent lung cancer?
To prevent lung cancer, stop smoking, or avoid secondhand smoke. You can do so by encouraging the people you live or work with to quit smoking too. Also, test your home for carcinogenic agents you might be living with. In general, you should avoid substances such as asbestos, radon, and arsenic. There’s strong evidence to suggest that regular exercise and a healthy diet can lower the risk of developing lung cancer. Therefore, all you have to do is modify your lifestyle and pay attention to your harmful habits.