What is lung cancer?
As cancer progresses and metastasizes, it interferes with vital processes and functions of the lungs and o ther organs where it has spread.
Seeking regular medical care offers the best chances of discovering lung cancer in its earliest, most curable stage. If you have lung cancer, following your treatment plan may help reduce your risk of some complications of lung cancer. Lung cancer is a highly preventable cancer because the majority of cases are caused by smoking. Quitting smoking greatly reduces your risk of lung cancer. Diagnosing lung cancer in its earliest stage provides the best hope for successful treatment and a cure. If you currently smoke or have a history of smoking, talk with your doctor about testing for lung cancer.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
Lung cancer often produces no symptoms in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable. Symptoms may not occur for a decade or more after lung cancer has developed. When symptoms do occur, they often indicate that lung cancer has progressed to an advanced, less curable stage.
Symptoms of lung cancer include:
What causes lung cancer?
Lung cancer is a highly preventable form of cancer; the majority of cases are caused by smoking. Exposure to smoke damages the cells that line the lungs. Over time, these abnormal cells multiply and form malignant tumors, which crowd out and destroy healthy cells.
Eventually, the cancer cells can spread to other organs of the body, such as the other lung, brain, bones, adrenal glands, and liver. This is called metastatic lung cancer.
Lung cancer can be caused by:
Smoking, including pipes, cigarettes and cigars
Exposure to secondhand smoke
Exposure to airborne carcinogens (substances that cause cancer), such as radon and asbestos
Metastasis of cancer from other areas in the body, such as the breast, prostate, or bone
What are the risk factors for lung cancer?
A number of factors increase your chances of developing lung cancer. The biggest risk factor is smoking; the more you smoke and the earlier you started smoking, the greater your risk of developing lung cancer. If you smoke, quitting can greatly reduce your risk of developing lung cancer, even if you have been a heavy smoker for many years.
Not all people with risk factors will develop lung cancer, but significant risk factors for lung cancer include:
Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes
Exposure to carcinogens (substances that cause cancer) in the air, such as radon and asbestos
Exposure to secondhand smoke
Genetic factors tied to lung cancer. Some people inherit gene mutations that increase the risk of developing lung cancer. These mutations can increase the risk of lung cancer in both smokers and nonsmokers. It’s also possible to acquire, or develop mutations in certain genes that make cancer more likely.
Reducing your risk of lung cancer
You can significantly lower your risk of lung cancer by :
Avoiding exposure to carcinogens in the air (substances that cause cancer), such as radon and asbestos. Precautions include wearing an appropriate protective mask when working around carcinogens, testing your home or workplace for radon, and installing a radon mitigation system if needed.
Avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke
How is lung cancer treated?
Treatment of lung cancer begins with seeking regular medical care throughout your life. Regular medical care allows your doctor to evaluate symptoms, such as chronic cough, and your risks of developing lung cancer. Imaging exams and other tests can diagnose the underlying cause or help rule out lung cancer. These measures greatly increase the chances of detecting lung cancer in its earliest, most curable stage.
The goal of lung cancer treatment is to permanently cure the cancer or to bring about a complete remission of the disease. Remission means that there is no longer any sign of the disease in the body, although it may recur or relapse later. Lung cancer treatment plans use a multifaceted approach that is individualized to the type and stage of lung cancer; your age, medical history, and coexisting diseases or conditions; and other factors. The most common type of lung cancer is non-small cell lung cancer; the second-most common type is small cell lung cancer; lung carcinoid tumor is least common form of lung cancer.
Lung cancer treatment may include an individualized combination of:
Chemotherapy in early or late-stage lung cancer. In end-stage lung cancer, chemotherapy may be used only to help shrink the tumor to relieve symptoms
Dietary counseling to help people with cancer maintain their strength and nutritional status
Immunotherapy to improve the body’s own ability to fight off cancer cells
Palliative cancer care to improve the overall quality of life for families and patients with serious diseases
Participation in a clinical trial to test promising new therapies and treatments for lung cancer
Radiation therapy in early-stage or late-stage lung cancer
Quitting smoking to help slow or stop the growth of a lung cancer tumor
Surgery to remove the cancerous tumor and possibly all or part of a lung, which is generally most effective during the earliest stage of lung cancer
- Targeted therapy to knock out factors that help cancer cells grow and multiply. Some targeted therapies are designed for specific subtypes of lung cancer.
Some complementary treatments may help some people to better deal with lung cancer and its treatments. These treatments, sometimes referred to as alternative therapies, are used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Complementary treatments are not meant to substitute for traditional medical care. Be sure to notify your doctor if you are consuming nutritional supplements or homeopathic (nonprescription) remedies as they may interact with the prescribed medical therapy.
Complementary treatments may include:
- Massage therapy
- Nutritional dietary supplements, herbal remedies, tea beverages, and similar products
In cases in which lung cancer has progressed to an advanced stage and is not responding to treatment, the goal of treatment shifts away from curing the disease and focuses more on the person’s overall quality of life. The goal of hospice care is to help people in the last phases of an incurable disease live as fully and comfortably as possible. Hospice care involves medically controlling pain and other symptoms while providing psychological and spiritual support as well as services to support the patient’s family.
What are the potential complications of lung cancer?
Complications of lung cancer are life threatening. Complications are caused by an abnormally rapid growth of old or damaged cells. These cells can travel through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other areas of the body, such as the other lung, brain, bones, adrenal glands, and liver (metastasis). Cancer cells can continue to multiply rapidly in other organs and develop new malignant tumors that interfere with normal organ function.
Over time, lung cancer can lead to serious complications including:
- Adverse effects of anticancer treatment
- Frequent episodes of pneumonia and bronchitis
- Metastasis of cancer to the other lung, brain, bones, adrenal glands, and liver
- Pleural effusion, which is an accumulation of fluid in the space around the lungs that causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
- Severe bleeding from the lungs
- Difficulty breathing
You can best treat lung cancer and lower your risk of complications, or delay the development of complications, by following the treatment plan that you and your healthcare team design specifically for you.