In the United States, lung cancer claims more lives than does prostate, ovarian, colon, and breast cancers combined. Worldwide, it’s the leading cause of all cancer deaths, for both women and men. That’s a sobering statistic. Protect yourself and your family by being aware of the risk factors and warning signs of lung cancer.
There are two main categories of lung cancer: Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). NSCLC is by far the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for up to 85% of all cases. Unfortunately, over half of cancers of this type, at the time of diagnosis, are already advanced.
Small cell lung cancer occurs exclusively in those that smoke heavily, and account for approximately 10-15% of all lung cancers. This type occurs less frequently than does NSCLC, is more aggressive, and can metastasize to areas outside the lungs. Non-small cell lung cancer comprises several types of lung cancer that are similar in nature, including adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinoma, carcinoid tumors, and squamous cell carcinoma.
Non-Small Cell Cancer Types
Adenocarcinoma in situ develops in multiple areas within the lungs, spreading along the alveolar walls. More women than men get this type of cancer, and the prognosis is better than other types of lung cancer. Adenocarcinoma can be mistaken for pneumonia on a chest X-ray.
Large Cell Carcinoma: This type of lung cancer is the least common type of NSCLC, and is known to spread to the lymph nodes and areas outside the lung. Carcinoid tumors stem from mature neuroendocrine cells. There are two types of carcinoid tumors; typical and atypical. The former develop slowly, while the latter are more likely to spread beyond the lungs. Coughing and wheezing are common symptoms.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This type of NSCLC cancer is most likely to be contained within the lungs, and often develops in the central chest area in the bronchi. Cancers originating in other locations in the body, that have become metastatic, often spread to the lungs via the lymph system and bloodstream.
Smoking, and exposure to second-hand smoke (from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes) are the top risk factors for developing lung cancer. Exposure to radon gas, a byproduct of uranium breakdown in rock and soil, is another significant risk factor. Unhealthy levels of radon can accumulate in the air in homes or work environments, where people then breathe it in. Exposure to carcinogenic compounds, such asbestos, arsenic, nickel, beryllium, tar, and chromium also increase risk.
The longer one has been smoking, the greater the danger. Age also factors in, with older people being more at risk. Family history and genetics play a part as well. Other factors include, living in a polluted area, exposure to radiation from CT scans and radiation therapy, being infected with HIV, and taking supplements with beta carotene. Smoking intensifies all of these risk factors, however, smoking cessation dramatically reduces risk.
Mesothelioma has gained a lot of attention from advertisements on television. It’s an aggressive form of cancer that is suspected to be caused by exposure to asbestos. It develops in the lining of the lungs. Symptoms can take decades to manifest, and include coughing, chest pain, unexplained weight loss, fever, fatigue, and chest pain.
Dana Reeve, Christopher Reeve’s wife tragically died of lung cancer, in 2006, due to radon exposure. She was only 44. She had taken care of her paraplegic husband for nine years. I can only imagine what the grief and stress of that situation did to her immune system. By the time the cancer was detected, it was inoperable, and she died soon after.
Warning Signs Of Lung Cancer
Sadly, the symptoms of lung cancer are often missed. Once a diagnosis is finally given, the cancer may have already spread. Early detection will always be paramount to a favorable prognosis and survival rates, along with treatment efficacy.
1. Shortness of breath and trouble swallowing: Active cancer can block the airways and result in fluid accumulation around the lungs, making it difficult to fully inhale.
2. Chronic cough, wheezing, and hoarseness: A cough that is persistent and gets worse over time can be a warning sign of lung cancer.
3. Coughing up blood: Bleeding in the respiratory tract can cause hemoptysis, or coughing up blood.
4. Pain: Advanced lung cancer that has spread outside the lung, can cause pain in other areas of the body, including the bones. Weight loss, facial swelling, chronic headaches, nausea, numbness, jaundice, and fatigue can also be part of the picture, depending on which organ is affected.
5. Lingering infections: Infections, such as, pneumonia and bronchitis that won’t clear or that keep recurring.
The Stages Of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is staged using the TNM system, which determines the extent of tumor growth and metastases. T denotes the tumor’s location, size, and spread. N stands for node involvement and if the cancer has spread from its original location via the lymph system. M denotes the degree of metastases to other organs.
Once a class based on the TNM system is determined, a stage is then assigned to the cancer. The stages of disease progress from stage 0 to stage 4:
Stage 0: Cancer cells are detected in the lining of the airways.
Stage 1: Tumor size is less than 3 cm and is contained within the lung.
Stage 2: Tumor size is less than 6 cm with a single metastasis.
Stage 3: Tumor is larger than 3 cm and has spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage 4: The cancer has spread to other organs away from the lung, such as, the adrenal glands, kidney, liver, lymph nodes, bones, or brain. It may also be found in the fluid or lining surrounding the lungs or heart. Tumors, besides the primary tumor, may have formed in the lungs. The prognosis for stage IV metastatic lung cancer is bleak, with treatments centered around pain-alleviation.
[The 4 Stages of Cancer]
There are a variety of diagnostic procedures that are utilized when lung cancer is suspected:
Tissue and lymph node biopsies: Tissue is removed from the lymph nodes and lung tissue and sent to a laboratory to check for cancer.
Low-dose CAT scans: Used to detect fluid or abnormal tissue in the lungs.
Chest X-rays: Accesses whether air is leaking into the chest from the lung.
Sputum cytology: Sputum (mucus that is coughed up from the lungs) is analyzed under a microscope to check for cancerous cells.
MRIs: Takes detailed images of areas within the lung.
PET scans: An imaging procedure that looks for and detects malignancies.
Liquid biopsies: An early-detection screen that detects circulating cancer biomarkers and tumor DNA from a single blood draw.
Bone scans: A scan that looks for rapidly dividing cells within the bone.
Thoracoscopy: A procedure that uses a thoracoscope to look for abnormalities within the chest cavity.
Mediastinoscopy: A mediastinoscope is inserted into the chest to look for abnormal areas between the lungs.
Bronchoscopy. A bronchoscope is inserted via the mouth or nose into the trachea and lungs to detect abnormal tissue.
The IvyGene Test For Early Cancer Detection]
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer and the leading cause of all cancer deaths. Smoking, exposure to radon gas and other carcinogenic substances, including asbestos, also factor into risk.
It’s important to know the warning signs of lung cancer, such as a chronic cough, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Symptoms are often missed until a diagnosis determines that the cancer is advanced.
Prevention includes not smoking, quitting smoking if you are a smoker, protecting yourself from second-hand smoke and other carcinogens, checking your house for unhealthy levels of radon, eating a nutritious diet, employing detoxification techniques, exercising, managing stress, and taking time for self-care every day.
Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with lung cancer? Let me know in the comments:)