An Overview of Lung Cancer
General Information on Lung Cancer
Lung cancer, or carcinoma of the lung, is one of the most common forms of cancer today. It is one of the most frequent causes of cancer-related mortality in the United States today. In the United States, another form of cancer that is becoming increasingly common is breast cancer, which is the development of malignant tissue in the breast. Breast cancer is seen mostly in women, though this does not mean that men are immune to it. A small percentage of men too contract breast cancer. The numbers are small, 1 man with breast cancer against a 100 women with it, but its there. However, there is one major difference between breast cancer and lung cancer. One can see the symptoms of breast cancer at an early stage, while in the case of lung cancer, the symptoms are not detected early, primarily because they match the symptoms of other lesser ailments. In this article, we will discuss lung cancer.
A person is said to suffer from lung cancer when a growth of malignant cancer cells is detected in the lungs. Depending on the stage at which lung cancer is detected, it can be classified as being in the:
o Early stages
o Advanced stages
Today, there is a vast amount of information on lung cancer available. Patients or relatives of patients can access information over the Internet, which has an almost limitless number of websites dedicated to different aspects of lung cancer – types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, etc. For example, if you are from the United Kingdom and want to research information on lung cancer treatment, facilities, etc in your country, you can simply log onto the website of Cancer Research UK, UK’s leading cancer charity, and collect whatever information you want from their site.
Earlier on, treatment of lung cancer was not an easy thing to do, owing to the huge amount of expenses in the form of medical bills, hospital stays fees, etc. However, nowadays with the availability of insurance, things have become easier. Lung cancer insurance is available easily, as is insurance covering other forms of cancer.
Types of Lung Cancer
Two main types of lung cancer exist today. Both of these are seen in the epithelial cells of the lungs. They are:
o Small cell lung cancer (SLCC)
o Non-small cell lung cancer
There is another type, called mixed small cell/large cell lung cancer. In this type you can find both kinds of cells in the cancerous tissue.
Besides these two types, there is another form of cancer of the lung area, called mesothelioma or mesothelioma cancer or cancer of the mesothelium. However, this is not considered a primary form of lung cancer, as its target area is not the lobes of the lung, but the pleural membrane covering the lung.
Small Cell Lung Cancer
This is the rarer of the two basic forms of lung cancer. One out of every five lung cancer patients suffer from small cell lung cancer.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Non-small cell lung cancer, or non-small lung cancer, is the more common of the two basic forms of lung cancer. Four out of five lung cancer patients suffer from this type of cancer.
Based on the cell type/area in which the carcinogenic cells proliferate in the lungs, non-small cell lung cancer is further categorized into three types. They are:
o Squamous cell carcinoma
o Large Cell Carcinoma
o Bronchioalveolar Carcinoma (BAC)
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This is the most common type of lung cancer. It occurs in the cells lining the airways inside the lungs. This form of cancer occurs mostly due to nicotine ingestion through smoking.
This form of cancer is seen in the mucus cells within the airways in the lung.
Large Cell Carcinoma
This is also called undifferentiated lung cancer. In large cell carcinoma, the proliferating cells are round and much larger than the cells seen in adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.
Bronchioalveolar Carcinoma (BAC)
This form of cancer is seen in the bronchioalveolar region of the lung.
What Causes Lung Cancer?
The main cause of lung cancer is exposure to tobacco. This is primarily through smoking. About 80% of lung cancer patients are smokers. Smokers may be cigarette smokers, cigar smokers, or pipe smokers; it doesn’t matter. The risk of contracting lung cancer is equal in all the three cases.
A person may inhale smoke directly. A person can also inhale smoke passively or involuntarily. This smoke is also called secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is of two types:
o Mainstream – This is the smoke exhaled by the smoker, and amounts to more than 50% of all secondhand smoke.
o Sidestream – This is the smoke emanating from the burning end of a cigarette/cigar/pipe/hookah.
Passive smokers too stand a high chance of contracting lung cancer. The chances of passive/secondary smokers contracting lung cancer is 30% higher than people who do not inhale smoke either actively or passively.
However, there have been instances of even total non-smokers suffering from lung cancer. This indicates that smoking is not the only cause for lung cancer. It is the primary cause, yes, but not definitely the only cause. The following are some of the other causes of lung cancer:
o Air pollution
o Inhalation of asbestos fibers
o Exposure to radon, a radioactive substance formed by breaking down uranium
o Inhalation of marijuana fumes by smoking
o Exposure of the chest area to radiation therapy during cancer treatment
o Hereditary reasons
o Presence of arsenic in drinking water
o Diet with low fruit and vegetable content (this increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers)
A combination of exposure to tobacco along with any of these causes greatly increases the chances of a person contracting lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
The following are some of the common symptoms of lung cancer. They do not usually manifest in the early stages. Even if they do, they are usually mistaken for some other ailment. These symptoms are:
o Persistent coughing
o Reddish or muddy brown spit
o Loss of breath
o Loss of appetite
o Persistent or repetitive infections of the bronchial tract
o Hoarseness of voice
o Renewed wheezing
In its later advanced stages, when the lung cancer is said to be in metastasis, the symptoms are:
o Numbness in the arms or legs
o A jaundiced appearance
o Tumorous growths near the skin surface
o Bone pain
Lung Cancer Detection and Diagnosis
It is very rare to be able to detect lung cancer in its early stages. There are no specific symptoms of early stages of lung cancer. This is one of the reasons why lung cancer is usually detected in its later stages.
The use of a proper screening technique would greatly increase the chances of early lung cancer detection. However, there is no such proper and totally effective screening technique yet. Research is on to see if one can be formulated soon. As of now, a new technique called spiral CT seems to be the best option for early detection.
Once lung cancer is detected, the next step is to determine the stage it is in. This is done using the AJCC system. Roman numerals are used to mark the different stages of lung cancer, numerals from 0 to IV. Sometimes the stages are further divided into substages, using denotations A and B. The general rule of thumb is that the lower the denomination, the less serious the condition.
Lung Cancer Treatment
Lung cancer treatment options are usually the same as prostate cancer treatment options or colon cancer treatment options. What I mean is that all forms of cancer have the same treatment options. However, lung cancer tests may be different from colon cancer tests. The standard treatment options for lung cancer are:
o Radiation Therapy
What matters is the combination of methods being used. The more serious the cancer, the more chances that different treatment options will be used in tandem, or one after the other.