The incidence of lung cancer is high among men than in women. Lung cancer is one of the most prevalent type of cancer and a leading cause of cancer deaths around the world. It generally affects any part of the lung or the airway passage of the lungs.
The lung cancer is of three types namely the non-small cell lung cancer, the small cell carcinoma and the lung carcinoid tumour. The non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer accounting to 85% of the total cases. The small cell carcinoma also called as ‘oat cell’ carcinoma that spreads quickly among the normal cells and accounts to 10-15% of the lung cancer cases. The lung carcinoid tumour accounts to 5% of the total lung cancer cases.
Signs and Symptoms
Cough: Generally a normal cough is associated with infection and disappears within a span of a week. A normal cough may be dry or may contain mucous secretion. But a cough associated with cancer is different from a general cough.
A cough associated with cancer lasts from weeks to months that produces a hoarse and dry cough. A cough produces a loud sound with vibrations felt in the chest while coughing.
Wheezing: Due to the constriction, blockade or inflammation of airway passages, a whistling sound of the breath is produced from the lungs. The wheezing may also be produced in case of asthma or other respiratory tract infections. Hence, consult a doctor if the wheezing persists for a long period.
Difficulty in breathing: A person suffering from cancer may experience shortness of breath and a difficulty in breathing, due to the blockade of the airways passages. You may experience difficulty in breathing while walking or sleeping, even on performing a small physical activity such as climbing stairs, etc.
Weight loss: Cancer is usually witnessed with an unexplained weight loss of approximately 5kgs. It may be due to the consumption of energy in the body by the cancer cells.
Bone pain: The bone pain may arise due to the spread of the infection to the bones. The pain in the bones is usually experienced in the shoulder bone, arms and the chest. The bone pain may increase with the movement of the person.
Headaches: Headaches usually arise due to the spread of the infection to the brain. But sometimes the pain may also arise due to the pressure on the blood vessels. This pressure is created when the cancer lump blocks the blood vessel that carries blood from the upper region of the body to the heart.
The common causes of lung cancer include smoking which may be either active and passive smoking. Active smoking involves smoking of cigarette by an individual. Whereas passive smoking is the inhalation of smoke of another person. Passive smoking is more dangerous than active smoking.
Lung cancer may also occur due to genetic changes in the body or due to a family history.
Lung cancer is strongly associated with the smoking of cigarettes and cigars. It accounts for a total of 90% of the total tobacco cases. The chances of developing lung cancer are higher in smokers when compared to non-smokers. Lung cancer caused due to inhalation of secondhand smoke is more dangerous than of direct smoke of a cigarette.
Exposure to certain chemicals such as radon, asbestos, arsenic in drinking water and air pollution has increased the risk of lung cancer.
The diagnosis of lung cancer can be done by following diagnostic procedures. The diagnostic procedures followed are:
- Sputum cytology: The sputum cytology is the microscopic examination of one’s mucous secretion. The sample is collected by making the patient breathe deeply and cough by putting pressure from within the lungs. The phlegm collected is viewed under the microscope.
- Chest X-ray: The chest x-ray uses mild radiography and detects any changes in the lungs and the chest.
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan: The CT scan is a powerful scan which obtains the size and shape of the tumour in the lungs.
- Bronchoscopy: It is a specialized technique used to remove a tissue sample from the lungs by insertion of a thin tube. The tissue sample is viewed under a microscope for any infection or the presence of any tumour.
Surgery: The surgery for lung cancer is a complex one, as cancer may be present in the lungs or in the airway passages. Lung surgery may include removing the entire lung if the tumour is present in the centre of the lungs or removing a part of the lobe or the entire lobe from the lungs.
Radiofrequency Ablation: It is an outpatient procedure, where high energy radio waves are used to heat the tumour with the help of a probe. The probe with the help of a local anaesthetic is inserted into the lungs till the tip reaches the tumour. Then heat is applied to melt the tumour.
Radiation therapy: This procedure is used to remove the tumour with the help of radiations. The radiation therapy is given along with chemotherapy for better results.
Chemotherapy: It is the treatment of cancer with help of anti-cancer agents. Chemotherapy drugs are administered either orally or through intravenous route. It is effective in treating various stages of lung cancer.
Targeted Therapy: This technique use antibiotics such as monoclonal antibodies in the treatment of lung cancer.
Coping and Support
A cancer patient may feel distressed due to mood fluctuation, a side effect associated with chemotherapy. But the patient should cope with the disease by maintaining a healthy physical and mental health.
Before the start of the treatment, the patient and the family should know about the disease and the treatment duration and procedure. A positive support of the family and friends of the patient helps in early recovery of the patient from the distress caused due to cancer.