Beware! If you smoke regularly, then you are at an elevated risk of getting lung cancer (lung tumor, lung carcinoma). Your chances of lung carcinoma increases with the number of cigarettes that you smoke each day and the number of years that you have smoked. Smoking is considered to be one of the predominant contributors to this deadly cancer.
Lungs, the two spongy organs in your chest, are a vital part of the respiratory system and their normal functioning is important for your existence. Lung cancer is a disease in which the cells of the lungs begin to multiply in an uncontrolled manner.
About 72 510 new cases and 66 279 lung cancer deaths were estimated in India (2021). These prevalence rates are quite alarming. With lung carcinoma continuing to impact the lives of people, it’s crucial to explore this disease and know what we can do to boost our chances of beating it.
Let’s discuss in detail about lung cancer, the types, signs and symptoms, causes, risk factors, preventive tips and treatment for lung cancer.
What are the types of lung cancer?
Knowing which type you have is essential because it influences your treatment options and prognosis. Lung cancer can be primary (tumor develops in the lungs itself), distant (tumor spreads to lymph nodes within the chest) or metastatic (cancer has spread from the primary site of origin to other cells in the body). Its types include:
- Non-small cell lung cancer: It is an umbrella term that includes different types of lung cancers. It includes large cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma.
- Small cell lung cancer: It occurs majorly in heavy smokers and is less common when compared to non-small cell lung cancer.
- Lung carcinoid tumor: This rare type of lung cancer affects the neuroendocrine cells.
What are the major signs and symptoms of lung cancer?
People with lung cancer do not witness any noticeable symptoms in its early stages, and this is the reason why it is more likely to go undetected initially. As cancer grows, the symptoms gradually develop and deteriorate over time.
In the advanced stages, you may typically notice chest pain, a new cough that doesn't go away, headache, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, unexplained weight loss, hoarseness, bone pain, loss of appetite, general fatigue, wheezing, pain in the chest, shoulders or back that deteriorates during laughing, coughing, or deep breathing.
What are the causes and risk factors of lung cancer ?
Knowing the risk factors for lung cancer is pivotal to take steps to prevent the disease. Few risk factors can be controlled (like avoiding smoking). But, there are some factors that you cannot control (like your family history). The major risk factors for lung cancer are:
- Tobacco smoke: We all know that smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. If you smoke heavily (active smoking), then your chances of getting the disease spikes up. Even if you do not smoke, the odds of getting lung carcinoma gets bigger if you are exposed to secondhand smoke (passive smoking).
- Prior radiation therapy to lungs: Individuals who had undergone radiation therapy to the chest for other tumors have raised risk for lung carcinoma, specifically if they smoke. Examples include individuals who have received treatment for Hodgkin disease or females who get chest radiation following a mastectomy for breast tumor.
- Exposure to radon gas: The natural breakdown of uranium in water, soil, and rock leads to radon gas production. This colorless and odorless radioactive gas eventually becomes part of the air that you breathe everyday. Unsafe levels of radon gas can get accumulated in any building, including homes and may predispose you to lung cancer.
- Exposure to cancer-causing agents: Few carcinogens that raise the risk of lung cancer include asbestos, diesel exhaust, radioactive ores like uranium, and inhaled chemicals like arsenic, chloromethyl ethers, beryllium, vinyl chloride, cadmium, silica, coal products, nickel and chromium compounds, and mustard gas.
- Family or personal history of lung carcinoma: If you are a lung cancer survivor, then there is a possibility that you may get another lung tumor, particularly if you have a habit of smoking. Also, a family history of lung carcinoma can make you more likely to get lung carcinoma.
- Compromised immune system: People with HIV and people on long-term steroids are prone to develop cancer of the lungs.
- Certain dietary supplements: In two studies, intake of beta carotene supplements were found to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
- Arsenic in drinking water: In a few studies, high levels of arsenic in drinking water was reported to elevate lung cancer risk.
- Air pollution: Some investigators estimate that worldwide, about 5% of all deaths from lung carcinoma may be due to environmental carcinogens and outdoor air pollution (specifically near heavily trafficked roads).
How to prevent or lower the risk of developing lung cancer?
Below are tips that you can follow to prevent or decrease your risk of getting this infuriating disease:
- Eat a nutritious and healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
- Don't get lazy and exercise regularly
- Stay away from cigarettes and other tobacco-related products
- Avoid second hand exposure to smoke
- Limit exposure to cancer-causing agents at work
With the above preventive steps, you should also undergo regular screening with a low dose CT for reducing risk of developing lung cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that every person aged 55-80 years, currently smoking, has a history of heavy smoking for the last 30 years or has quit smoking within the past 15 years.
How can lung cancer be treated?
The type of treatment is dependent on the location or stage of the disease, the overall health of the patient and preferences of the patient. The most commonly used lung cancer treatment are:
- Surgery to remove tumor
- Radiation therapy to kill cancerous cells
- Chemotherapy to damage cancer cells and reduce tumor growth
- Targeted-drug therapy such as Capmatinib to prevent tumor growth
- Biological therapy or Immunotherapy to help fight cancer
- Palliative care for pain relief and managing symptoms
Being diagnosed with a lung tumor is terrifying, whether it's an early-stage or advanced-stage tumor. Lung carcinoma is easier to treat if caught early. So, if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that perturb you, visit your doctor immediately.
Your health care provider will help you in understanding about the stage of disease, what to expect after treatment, various complementary therapies to ease out pain and depression, lifestyle changes, follow up care, survival rates and adverse effects associated with the type of the treatment.