Lung cancer occurs when cells in the lungs divide uncontrollably, causing tumors to grow. Tumors can reduce a person’s ability to breathe, and they can spread to other parts of the body.
Lung cancer is the
Smoking is a major risk factor, although not everyone who develops lung cancer has a history of smoking.
Lung cancer can be fatal, but effective diagnoses and treatments are improving the outlook.
This article will explain what lung cancer is, how to recognize the symptoms, and what treatment options are available.
Cancer causes changes in cells that are otherwise healthy. The cells
Healthy cells in the body usually die at a certain stage in their life cycle, thereby preventing a buildup of too many cells. In cancer, however, cells continue to grow and multiply. As a result, tumors develop.
Anyone can develop lung cancer, but cigarette smoking and having exposure to smoke, inhaled chemicals, or other toxins can increase the risk.
The main types of lung cancer are NSCLC and SCLC. They differ in the size of cell, as seen under a microscope.
There are three subtypes:
People with lung cancer may not have any symptoms until a later stage. If lung cancer signs do appear, they can resemble those of a respiratory infection.
Some possible symptoms
- changes to a person’s voice, such as hoarseness
- frequent chest infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
- swelling in the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest
- a lingering cough that may start to get worse
- chest pain
- shortness of breath and wheezing
In time, a person may also experience more severe symptoms, such as:
- severe chest pain
- bone pain and bone fractures
- coughing up blood
- blood clots
- appetite loss and weight loss
The staging of cancer describes how far it has spread through the body and how severe it is. Staging helps healthcare professionals and individuals decide on a suitable course of treatment.
The most basic form of staging is as follows:
- localized, wherein the cancer is within a limited area
- regional, wherein the cancer has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes
- distant, wherein the cancer has spread to other parts of the body
Similar to this is the TNM staging system. Healthcare professionals
There are also specific ways of staging NSCLC and SCLC.
Stages of NSCLC
Healthcare professionals typically use tumor size and spread to describe the stages of NSCLC,
- Occult, or hidden: The cancer does not show up on imaging scans, but cancerous cells might appear in the phlegm or mucus.
- Stage 0: There are abnormal cells only in the top layers of cells lining the airways.
- Stage 1: A tumor is present in the lung, but it is 4 centimeters (cm) or under and has not spread to other parts of the body.
- Stage 2: The tumor is 7 cm or under and might have spread to nearby tissues and lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: The cancer has spread to lymph nodes and reached other parts of the lung and surrounding area.
- Stage 4: The cancer has spread to distant body parts, such as the bones or brain.
Stages of SCLC
SCLC has its own categories. The stages are known as limited and extensive, and they refer to whether the cancer
In the limited stage, the cancer affects only one side of the chest, although it might already be present in some surrounding lymph nodes.
The ACS states that around
In the extensive stage, the cancer has spread beyond the one side of the chest. It may affect the other lung or other parts of the body.
The ACS notes that around two-thirds of people with SCLC learn they have it when it is already in the extensive stage.
Below, we outline the chances of surviving for
The percentages reflect the chances of a person surviving with lung cancer compared with the chances of a person surviving without the condition.
As lung cancer progresses, it can cause several complications. This may be due to side effects associated with certain cancer treatments or the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
Some possible complications of lung cancer include:
- Superior vena cava syndrome: Tumors around the upper area of the right lung
can obstructblood flow through the superior vena cava, a large vein that carries blood from the upper body to the heart. This may lead to superior vena cava syndrome, a condition causing facial swelling, dizziness, and loss of consciousness.
- Metastasis: Lung cancer
may spreadto other parts of the body, including the brain, bones, and adrenal glands. This is more common with advanced stages of lung cancer.
- Lung infections: People with lung cancer have a
higher riskof lung infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, due to decreased immune function, which may be a result of the cancer itself or certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy.
- Heart blockage: Although rare, lung cancer
can spreadto the heart and may compress or obstruct the veins and arteries. This can cause issues such as fluid buildup, heart blockage, arrhythmias, or heart attack.
- Hypercalcemia: Lung cancer can elevate calcium levels in the blood, which health experts call hypercalcemia. This may lead to nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, and stomach pain. According to estimates, hypercalcemia affects up to 30% of individuals with all types of cancer.
- Blood clots: People with lung cancer have an
increased riskof deep vein thrombosis, which occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein. If this blood clot travels to the lungs, it can prevent blood flow and could cause a pulmonary embolism, which may be fatal.
- Neuropathy: Pancoast tumors, which are a type of tumor located at the top of the lungs,
can affectthe nerves in the eyes, face, and shoulders. This can cause arm and shoulder pain and Horner’s syndrome, which is a condition that can result in droopy eyelids and changes in pupil size.
- Spinal cord compression: Cancer can spread from the lungs to the spine, which can compress the vertebrae, causing back pain, weakness, and difficulty walking. According to one study, this condition may affect around 28% of individuals with lung cancer.
Undergoing regular screening may be a good idea for people with a high risk of developing lung cancer. Screening is with a low dose CT scan.
The American Lung Association(ALA) recommends screening if a person meets all of the following criteria:
- They are aged 55–80 years.
- They have a history of heavy smoking, meaning 30 pack years, which is one pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years.
- They currently smoke or have quit smoking within the past 15 years.
Insurance will often cover this screening if a person is aged 55–80 years and has private health insurance or is aged 55–77 years, has Medicare, and meets all the other criteria.
However, people should check with their insurance company before signing up for lung cancer screening.
Additionally, false positive results sometimes occur when screening for lung cancer. The ALA estimates that around 12–14% of initial screening scans for lung cancer will have a false positive.
However, advances in screening methods have helped reduce the rate of false positives over time. Also, if a person undergoes regular screening, it allows physicians to detect changes more easily between scans to prevent false positives.
A person should speak with a doctor about the likelihood of false positives and what to expect after screening.
If a person has any symptoms that could indicate lung cancer or if screening shows something unusual, a healthcare professional
If the cancer has spread, imaging tests can also reveal changes to bones and other organs. Moreover, scans can help track the progress of treatment.
A bronchoscope is a thin, lighted scope with a camera on the end that enters the lungs through the mouth or nose. A healthcare professional can use it to look for lesions and take samples.
For less accessible lesions, they may use a more invasive surgical procedure, such as thoracoscopy or video-assisted thoracic surgery, to remove lung tissue.
Laboratory tests can also reveal whether or not cancer is present in the:
- pleural effusion, which is the fluid that collects around the lungs
This information can help confirm whether cancer is present and, if it is, determine its type and stage.
- the type of cancer
- the location and stage
- the person’s overall health
- their individual preferences
All the treatment options can have adverse effects. A person should consult a healthcare professional about the most suitable choice for them, including the pros and cons of each option.
Some treatment options include:
- surgery to remove part or all of a lung
- chemotherapy, which refers to a drug treatment that can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors
- radiation therapy, which uses high energy rays to kill cancerous cells
- radiofrequency ablation, wherein a healthcare professional inserts a thin needle and uses an electric current to destroy cancer cells
- targeted therapy, which targets a specific behavior to prevent tumor growth
- immunotherapy, which helps the body fight cancer cells
- palliative therapy, including pain relief, oxygen therapy, and other help that a person may need to manage their symptoms
A healthcare professional will work with the individual and adjust their treatment plan as their needs change.
However, not everyone who has lung cancer smokes, and lung cancer can occur due to several other factors, including:
Although it is not possible to prevent all lung cancers, there are several steps a person can take to reduce their risk of the condition. These include the following:
- Quit smoking, if applicable: According to the
ACS, quitting smoking can lower the risk of lung cancer, regardless of a person’s age or how long they have smoked.
- Avoid secondhand smoke: Breathing in smoke can cause numerous health issues and
may increasethe risk of lung cancer.
- Follow a balanced diet: Eating a variety of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables may help protect against lung cancer.
- Avoid exposure to radon: Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that
can causelung cancer. Testing kits are available to measure radon levels at home. Additionally, individuals who work in areas with a higher risk of radon exposure should follow all recommended safety procedures to minimize health hazards.
Lung cancer can be fatal, but emerging treatments mean that many people now survive and recover from lung cancer, especially if they receive an early diagnosis.
Some factors affecting the likelihood of a positive outcome include:
- a person’s overall health
- their age
- the stage of cancer at diagnosis
- the type of cancer they have
It is not possible to predict exactly how cancer will affect an individual, but a healthcare professional can help a person understand what they may be able to expect by looking at the results of tests and other factors.
Lung cancer is a potentially fatal type of cancer, but people who receive an early diagnosis often have a good chance of survival.
Individuals with a high risk of developing lung cancer may wish to consider undergoing regular screening. This can help detect the early signs and allow for treatment before the cancer spreads.
Anyone who has concerns about their risk of lung cancer should seek guidance from a healthcare professional.