The following describes the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. For specific information regarding your health and treatment options, please contact your Hurley physician or medical professional.
What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States. Each year, more than 200,000 individuals are diagnosed with new cases of lung cancer. Lung cancer affects the respiratory (breathing) system, including the lining of the bronchi (the main airways of the lungs), the trachea, bronchioles or alveoli.
Lung cancers are believed to develop over a long period, often many years. Most lung cancers are carcinomas, a type of cancer that begins in the lining or protective covering tissues of an organ. However, there are many types of lung cancers which affect various parts of the respiratory system. It is important to know which type of lung cancer is present, as each type has different symptoms, develops and spreads differently, and requires different treatment.
What causes lung cancer?
The exact causes of lung cancer, as with most cancers, are unknown. However, there are certain risk factors that increase the possibility of being diagnosed with lung cancer. Cigarette, cigar and marijuana smoking are believed to be the cause of almost 90% of lung cancers. Other factors include diet, personal or family history of lung cancer, and exposure to various toxins such as air pollution, asbestos, talcum powder (for miners and processors of talc, not home users of talcum powder purchased in stores), radioactive and other gases used in the workplace, and radon. Individuals with Vitamin A deficiency and who have a history of recurring inflammation of the lung tissues, from tuberculosis, pneumonia and other diseases, may also be more vulnerable to lung cancer.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
Since the symptoms of lung cancer vary across individuals and may appear similar to symptoms of other illnesses and disorders, you should always speak to your Hurley physician about any symptoms you are experiencing.
Lung cancer typically develops for a period of time with no symptoms. Often, the first sign of the presence of lung cancer is a persistent cough. Other symptoms of lung cancer include the following:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath, hoarseness and/or wheezing
- Frequent lung infections, including pneumonia and bronchitis
- Blood in the sputum (phlegm that you cough up) or a rust color to the sputum
- Pain or weakness in the shoulder, arm or hand (due to a tumor that presses on a nerve)
- Swelling in the neck or face (due to a tumor that presses on the blood vessels)
- Unexplained fever not due to a cold or the flu
As with many cancers, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite and headache may also be signs of lung cancer.
How is lung cancer diagnosed?
During your appointment, your Hurley physician will ask you questions about your medical history and conduct a complete physical examination. Laboratory tests may be ordered, including blood tests, urine tests and sputum cytology, which examines mucus or phlegm cells under a microscope. Your physician may use a bronchoscopy, in which a small tube with a viewing device is used to visually inspect the airways and collect tissue samples. Tissue biopsies, which involve removal of a small piece of the affected organ, involve analysis by a trained pathologist for the presence of abnormal cells.
Imaging technology may also be used to identify structural problems, spots on the lungs and tumors, including x-rays and CT scans.
How is lung cancer treated?
Part of the diagnostic testing process involves grading and “staging” the lung cancer. In this step, your oncologist (cancer doctor) will determine the type of cancerous cells or tumors present, the rate of tumor growth, and the degree to which the cancer has spread to other organs and systems of the body. Your oncologist will then recommend a course of treatment that takes this information into account, as well as your age, overall health, and personal and family circumstances, and your unique needs and objectives for treatment.
Treatment options may include surgery to remove the cancerous cells, tumors and affected areas of the lung. For smaller tumors and less aggressive cancers, only a small part of one or both lungs will be removed. In advanced cases, more aggressive surgery may be required, including complete removal of one of the two lungs.
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and biological therapies that use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer may also be used alone, in combination with each other, or in addition to surgical techniques. There are also a number of new drugs and innovative therapies that have been developed recently to target and treat lung cancer. These include medications that block the formation of blood vessels that would otherwise provide the tumor with needed oxygen, and various forms of laser therapy.
Research on lung cancer is always taking place. You may wish to speak with your Hurley physician about clinical trials that are testing new, emerging treatment options.