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Lung cancer: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About lung cancer

Lung cancer, also known as ‘Pulmonary Carcinoma’ in medical terms, is a disease of the lungs, wherein the cells of the lung tissue exhibit uncontrolled growth. The cancer may arise in any part of the lung, but most commonly arises from the lining of the airways (referred as bronchi or bronchioles). Therefore, a doctor may even refer to lung cancer as ‘bronchogenic cancer’ or ‘bronchogenic carcinoma’.

Lung cancer: Incidence, age and sex

Different organs of the body may be affected by cancer, but lung cancer is by far the most common cause of carcinogenic death in both genders. It is predominantly a disease of the elderly population with almost 70% of the cases occurring after the age of 65 years.

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer: Diagnosis

There are two types of lung cancer, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The growth and spread of both types is not same and treatment options may vary. Therefore, the attending doctor needs to identify the type of cancer before deciding the treatment options. The clinical symptoms may depend upon the extent and location of cancer in the lung.

In about a quarter of lung cancer patients, there are no symptoms at all. Cancer may accidentally be discovered on a routine chest radiograph or a scan. However, a majority of lung cancer patients may experience breathing problems like shortness of breath and chest pain. Most commonly, a lung cancer patient may complain of persistent cough. The cough may be occasionally accompanied with blood stained sputum.

In case of spread of cancer to the adjacent bone, the individuals may experience excruciating pain at the site of bone involvement. Likewise, spread of cancer to the brain may be presented with symptoms like blurred vision, headache, or seizures.

Causes and prevention of lung cancer

The most important cause of lung cancer is smoking, with about 90% of the lung cancers arising due to tobacco use. The risk of developing lung cancer depends upon the number of cigarettes smoked per day and duration of smoking habit. Pipe and cigar smoking can also cause lung cancer. Passive smokers (people who share living with smokers) are also at a risk of developing lung cancer. Apart from smoking, lung cancer can also develop because of occupational exposure to harmful radiation.

Prevention, of course lies in refraining from smoking or if not cessation, then at least reducing the number of cigarettes. Besides, a smoker should periodically get regular medical examination once he/she crosses the age of 65 years.

Lung cancer: Complications

If left untreated, lung cancer can continue to grow and invade adjacent structures like the ribs. Moreover, it may also spread to distant organs like the brain through the bloodstream.

Lung cancer: Treatment

Just like other cancers, the treatment of lung cancer involves surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The decision to carry out the best treatment depends upon the overall health of the patient, location and spread of cancer. The treatment also depends upon whether it is a small cell lung cancer (SCLC) or non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Surgical treatment of SCLC is usually not recommended since these cancers are less likely to be localized and have higher propensity to spread. However, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be used for both types of cancers.

Several other treatments like photodynamic therapy, radiofrequency ablation, use of anti-angiogenesis drugs are also found helpful. The prognosis of lung cancer is poor as compared to other cancers.