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Medical Condition: Lung Cancer

Commonly asked questions about lung cancer:

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is recognized as any abnormal cancerous growth that occurs in the lung cells. Such an abnormal growth can either be benign in nature, in which it tends to stick in one place, or can be malignant, which spreads all over the organ. It makes the organ incapable of performing its function of oxygenating the blood properly, which ultimately affects the body as a whole.

The cancer may start anywhere, such as in the trachea, the bronchus, as well as in the alveoli (air sacs).

Lung Cancer Statistics

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women.

The American Cancer Society claims that about 14 percent of all newly diagnosed cases of cancer in the United States are of lung cancer alone. Moreover, the disease is responsible for mortalities than breast cancer and prostate cancer.

According to Medical News Today, one in 13 men, and one in 16 women. have a lifetime risk of developing lung cancer. Most of the diagnosis is made at the age of 60.

Lung cancer accounts for approximately 1.37 million deaths worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization.

In October 2012, King’s College London reported that lung cancer in women is expected to increase by 35 times as compared to that in men over the next 30 years.

According to Macmillan.org.uk, in the United Kingdom, the stats for female lung cancer cases are expected to significantly increase by the year 2040.

Lung cancer is expected to be responsible for approximately 95,000 deaths in women in the year 2040 — compared to 26,000 in 2010.

What are Types of Lung Cancers?

Primary lung cancer means that the disease has originated in the lung tissue itself. Secondary occurs because of metastasis from other cancer-affected organs in the body.

Primary cancers of the lungs can be divided into the following broad categories:

Small Cell Lung Carcinoma (SCLC)

‘Oat-cell carcinoma’ is another term used for small-cell lung carcinoma disease. It tends to affect other organs as well, such as GIT, cervix and prostate glands. It usually arises in the bronchus and has a very malignant potential. SCLC often affects tobacco consumers. Metastases to the hilum and the lymph nodes are common as well (http://web.archive.org/).

SCLC has a high affinity towards the bronchus, and tends to fill up the airways to produce symptoms, such as a cough and dyspnea. According to cancerresearch.uk, every 12th cancer case out of a hundred are diagnosed to be of this kind. The lungcancer.org states that SCLC makes up to 25 percent of all the lung cancer cases.

This cancer type is very vigorous. According to Medscape, about 60 to 70 percent of the patients, at the time of presentation, have a widely disseminated form of the disease. SCLC, at its extensive stages, is not possible to cure yet.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

According to American Cancer Society, non-small-cell lung cancer is responsible for 80-85 percent of total related cases. NSCLC has a slower rate of growth when compared to its counterpart SCLC. However, like small-cell, it is also related to smoking. NSCLC is divided into three further subtypes:

1. Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for 30 percent of all lung cancer cases. It tends to occupy the central portion of the lungs or the main bronchus. The location of the tumor determines the symptoms of the disease

2. Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma tends to occupy the peripheries of the organ. In the United States, adenocarcinoma accounts for 40 percent of lung cancer cases. Smoking is a major risk factor. However, adenocarcinoma is the most common type among non-smokers.

3. Large-Cell Carcinoma

Large-cell carcinoma is responsible for 10 percent of all lung cancer cases. It grows quickly and can be found growing in any part of the lungs, however, its preferable site is the periphery.

Lung Carcinoid Tumor

This is a relatively uncommon lung cancer type and tends to grow slowly — compared to other subtypes. Carcinoids can be divided into central (which occupy the bronchi), as well as peripheral (which occupy the peripheral lung tissue).

What are Risk Factors and Causes of Lung Cancer?

Active Smoking

Smoking is a common risk factor. About 87 percent of all lung cancer cases are related to smoking, according to LungCancer.org. Cessation of smoking aids in declining the risk.

Passive Smoking

Non-smokers, who tend to be exposed to secondhand smoke, either at home or at their workplaces, develop a 20-30 percent risk of getting a lung cancer during their lifetime.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a natural mineral that is capable of producing several diseases of the lungs, including cancer. It is oftentimes found at construction sites. Asbestos and tobacco have been found to influence the development of cancer of the lungs. Smokers who tend to be exposed to this material regularly develop a 45-fold increment in the risk.

Radon

Radon gas is a breakdown product of the radioactive material radium. In the United States, radon ranks as the second most common cause of lung cancer.

Radiation

Previous exposure to radio waves, may it be in the form of X-rays or radiation treatment, can increase the risk of developing lung cancer.

Tuberculosis

In this disease, scarring of the lung tissue can take place, which can produce lung cancer.

Air Pollution

Exposure to outdoor polluted air, which contains fumes and toxic substances, is responsible for slight risks of getting lung cancer.

Genetics

Gene mutations play a vital role in increasing the risk of lung cancer. According to the Journal of Thoracic Disease, about eight percent of lung cancer cases are linked to genetics. People with a positive family history of the disease have a double risk.

What are Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer can produce a variety of symptoms, which may be respiratory, as well as systemic. If there is a tumor in the lung, it can also produce mass effects. Approximately 90 percent of lung cancer patients have displayed the following symptoms at the time of diagnosis:

Persistent Cough

A cough that persists for a long time and does not wane away can indicate an underlying cancer in the lungs. According to LungCancerAlliance.com, about 50 percent of lung cancer patients display persistent coughing symptoms.

Hemoptysis

Hemoptysis is a medical term for blood in sputum, and is an important symptom of lung cancer.

Dyspnea

Dyspnea — or shortness of breath — may occur as a general symptom or due to mass affects being exerted by a lung tumor.

Weight Loss

Weight loss is rather a non-specific sign of lung cancer and may occur late in the disease.

Fingernail Clubbing

Such a symptom also occurs in other pulmonary conditions apart from lung cancer.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia can develop due to lung cancer when there is a tumor obstructing the airways, resulting in accumulation of secretions and infection.

Horner’s Syndrome

This syndrome consists of drooping eyelids and small-sized pupil of the affected eye. This symptom occurs when the tumor is in the lung apex and is pressing upon the sympathetic chain situated in that area.

How Do You Treat Lung Cancer?

The following treatment plans are devised commonly for the two main types of lung cancers: small cell and non-small cell lung carcinoma:

Small-Cell Lung Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy is the main mode of treatment that is usually employed in this kind of lung cancer. This lung cancer type spreads rapidly and is at its advanced stage in most of the cases at the time of diagnosis. Thus, surgery is rarely possible. If the cancer has not afflicted the nearby organs and the lymph nodes, only then will surgery be possible to treat small-cell lung cancer. Radiotherapy may also be provided as an adjunct treatment in this lung cancer type.

Metastasis to the brain is common in people with SCLC. In order to eradicate cancer completely from the body, radiotherapy to the brain may also be advised.

In cases where surgery is possible, a lobectomy procedure can be performed in the affected part of the lung. Lobectomy refers to a procedure in which a specific part of the lung tissue has removed. In the case of small-cell lung cancer, the central portion is the part where lobectomy has performed most of the time. Radiotherapy, as well as chemotherapy, may be induced after surgery to keep cancer from recurring.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment

The treatment of non-small cell lung cancer is different for each stage. In this lung cancer type, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be applied separately as well as combined. Stage-dependent NSCLC treatments include:

Stage 1

In the initial stages of NSCLC, treatment is not rigorous, and is usually in the form of surgery. Lobectomy or pneumonectomy (removal of the whole lung) may be carried out to eradicate the cancer-affected portion of the organ. However, in cases where the candidate is not suitable to undergo surgery, targeted radiotherapy may be performed to kill lung cancer cells.

Stage 2

Surgery is usually the mode of treatment in the second stage of NSCLC. Chemotherapy may also be used after surgery has been carried out and is successful. Here, chemotherapy aids in preventing recurrence of the disease. (Cancer.net) For individuals who cannot undergo surgery, a mode of treatment, known as chemoradiation, may be offered to them. As the name states, chemoradiation is a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Stage 3

Stage 3 treatment of NSCLC depends on the state of cancer. If the cancer cells are not found in the lymph nodes and are not located in the center of the chest and too close to the heart, surgery is possible. Otherwise, radiotherapy becomes the mode of treatment. If the cancer cells have spread to the opposite side of the chest, as well as the lymph nodes, chemotherapy needs to be implied followed by a course of radiotherapy.

Stage 4

Stage 4 NSCLC is an advanced condition, and in this case, treatment only aims at controlling the spread of the disease as long as possible. Here, biological therapy drugs, such as Gefitinib, Crizotinib and erlotinib, may be implied. Radiotherapy for stage 4 NSCLC may be carried out to provide symptomatic relief such as that from the pain and blockage due to tumor. (CancerResearchUK.org)

How to Prevent Cancer

Cancer prevention can vary based on different research, and opinionated studies or news reports. However, these simple lifestyle changes can make a difference in the prevention of developing or forming cancer.

  1. Eat healthy
  2. Limit or stop your use of tobacco
  3. Have a balanced lifestyle
  4. Avoid risky behavior
  5. Visit your doctor
  6. Immunization
  7. Protect your skin from the sun

What Drugs are Used to Treat Lung Cancer?

The following drugs and medications are in some way related to, or used in the treatment of brain cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute:

  • Abitrexate
  • Afinitor
  • Doxorubicin Hydrochloride
  • Etopophos
  • Etoposide
  • Etoposide Phosphate
  • Everolimus
  • Folex
  • Folex PFS
  • Hycamtin
  • Mechlorethamine Hydrochloride
  • Methotrexate
  • Methotrexate LPF
  • Mexate
  • Mexate-AQ
  • Mustargen
  • Topotecan Hydrochloride

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View Sources

  1. Lung Cancer – Medicine.net
  2. Lung Cancer: Facts, Types and Causes – Medical News Today
  3. Key statistics for lung cancer – American Cancer Society
  4. Small cell carcinoma – Merck Source
  5. Types of lung cancer – United Kingdom Cancer Research
  6. Types and Staging of Lung Cancer – LungCancer.org
  7. Small Cell Lung Cancer: Prognosis – Medscape
  8. Lung Cancer (Small Cell) – American Cancer Society
  9. Lung cancer – non-small cell – Medline Plus
  10. Reports of the Surgeon General, U.S. Public Health Service – U.S Department of Health & Human Services
  11. Radon and lung cancer: Assessing and mitigating the risk – Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine

References

  • World Cancer Report 2014. World Health Organization. 2014. pp. Chapter 5.1.ISBN 9283204298.
  • World Cancer Report 2014. World Health Organization. 2014. pp. Chapter 1.1.ISBN 9283204298.
  • World Cancer Report 2014. World Health Organization. 2014. pp. Chapter 5.1.ISBN 9283204298.
  • Subramanian, J; Govindan R (February 2007). “Lung cancer in never smokers: a review”. Journal of Clinical Oncology. American Society of Clinical Oncology. 25 (5): 561–570.doi:10.1200/JCO.2006.06.8015PMID 17290066.
  • O’Reilly, KM; Mclaughlin AM; Beckett WS; Sime PJ (March 2007). “Asbestos-related lung disease”American Family Physician. 75 (5): 683–688. PMID 17375514.
  • Maddams J, Utley M, Møller H. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010-2040. Br J Cancer 2012; 107: 1195-1202.