Cancer is a disease caused by unhealthy cells inside the body growing out of control. Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that start off in one or both lungs.
Lung cancer can cause a number of complications in the lungs and in other parts of the body. Here are some of the most common complications:
Complications in the lungs
Some of the more common lung cancer symptoms are caused by complications in the lungs.
According to LungCancer.org, these complications can lead to the following symptoms:
- shoulder, chest, or back pain that is not linked to persistent coughing
- shortness of breath
- a harsh sound with each breath
- coughing up phlegm or mucus
- coughing up blood
- changes in the voice
Neuropathy is caused by tumors that grow near the nerves in the arm or shoulder. A tumor compresses the nerves leading to pain and weakness.
This is the buildup of fluid in the membrane that covers the lungs. The fluid can then press against the lungs causing breathlessness.
Lung cancers can sometimes affect the heart when they develop near it or close to major blood vessels. This can cause fluid to press against the heart, which may lead to a number of issues.
These issues include:
Blocking airways or the food pipe
A tumor may grow into an airway in the lung and block it.
This may lead to other issues, such as pneumonia or shortness of breath.
Lung cancers that grow near a person's food pipe can cause complications, making it difficult for the person to swallow.
Cancers near a foodpipe may lead to a person feeling pain when food passes through to their stomach.
Spreading cancer to other parts of the body
Another serious complication of lung cancer is that it may spread to other parts of the body. Some lung cancer cells can travel through the lymphatic system or through the bloodstream.
If this happens, the cells can become lodged somewhere else in the body. Cancerous cells can then grow in these new locations, causing further cancers.
According to Cancer Research UK, lung cancer is most likely to spread to:
- lymph nodes, in the chest, abdomen, neck, or armpit
- adrenal glands
There are a number of ways to treat all of these different complications. The choice of treatment will vary depending on a number of factors, which include the type of complication, the age, and the general health of the patient.
Here are different treatments for the variety of complications listed above:
Neuropathy as a complication of lung cancer can lead to discomfort. There are many ways to treat the symptoms of neuropathy, including:
- pain relief medication
- anti-seizure medication
Pleural effusion can be treated by slowly draining away the fluid. In order to do this, a tube is inserted into the chest through a small cut.
A person may spend a few days in hospital after this treatment. If the fluid builds up again, they may need to have it drained a further time.
A person with pleural effusion may also have one of the following procedures:
- Pleurodesis: a process to remove the space where the fluid can build up.
- Medical thoracoscopy: a procedure to investigate the complications and diagnose further treatment.
Heart complications can occur if fluid presses against blood vessels because of a tumor. This can be treated in the following ways:
- Pericardiocentesis is a procedure where the fluid is drained using a needle. The needle is placed into the sponge that surrounds the heart. An ultrasound of the heart is often used to guide the needle.
- Creating a pericardial window to prevent a buildup of fluid in the future. A piece of the sac around the heart is removed in surgery. This allows any fluid that builds up to drain into the chest or abdomen.
There are a number of procedures to treat lung cancer if it blocks a person's airways. These include the following:
- Photodynamic therapy (PTD): a procedure where a light-activated drug is injected. A few days later a tube with a laser on it is passed down the throat and into the lung. The laser is then aimed at the tumor. The laser activates the drug, killing the cancerous cells.
- Laser therapy: lasers can be used to treat small tumors causing blockages in airways. These lasers can also be used to open up blocked airways to help improve breathing.
- Stent placement: a hard silicone or metal tube, called a stent, is placed into the airway. The stent is designed to hold the airway open to improve a person's breathing.
Complications caused by lung cancer can occur over time. They tend to appear as the disease develops.
If a person's lung cancer is detected early, then they have a much higher chance of surviving the disease. It's important for a person to understand the symptoms so that they can get an early diagnosis.
Unfortunately, most cases of lung cancer are diagnosed in the later stages. This is because many of the symptoms or complications of the disease tend not to occur until the cancer is advanced.
Therefore, the individual outlook depends on a number of factors including the type of cancer, how far it has developed, and the person's age and general health.