A Close Look at Lung Cancer
Of all the diseases and illnesses chronic smoking brings to your body, lung cancer is the disease you should be most afraid of. It’s one of the best-known, most controversial effects of smoking not only because it’s almost inevitable for heavy smokers but also because it is truly a serious disease.
Getting lung cancer
Understandably, most people who are diagnosed with lung cancer have one thing in common: they’re all heavy smokers. Eighty-five to ninety percent of people suffering from lung cancer get the disease from prolonged exposure to tobacco smoke. Cigarette smoke contains more than 60 known carcinogens, so lung cancer seems like the most likely outcome of chronic smoking habits. Each year, about 174,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer; most of them are active smokers, while others are former smokers.
A person who has never picked up a cigarette in his or her life is also at risk for getting lung cancer if he or she is exposed to secondhand smoke for long periods of time. So take that into consideration if you frequently smoke around the house.
Genetic factors and exposure to harmful substances such as radon and asbestos also increase a person’s risk for developing lung cancer.
Some signs you might have the disease
Lung cancer has such a negative effect on the body that many people suffering from the disease report just having a general ill feeling or just intuitively knowing that something is wrong with their bodies. Lung cancer usually first makes itself known through a new cough that won’t go away no matter what you do. As the disease progresses, you’ll feel pain in your chest and swallowing becomes harder. Breathing will become more difficult, so you’ll often wheeze and be short of breath. Your respiratory system becomes vulnerable to infections, too.
Worse symptoms of lung cancer include coughing up blood and swelling of the face or neck. Once these symptoms set in, you’ll want to get to the hospital as soon as possible for diagnosis and consultation with your primary care physician.
Getting diagnosed with lung cancer
Even though it’s a serious disease, lung cancer is not an easy condition to diagnose. This is primarily because lung cancer shares symptoms with other respiratory illnesses. Doctors may have to rule out these illnesses first before running the necessary diagnostic tests for lung cancer. These diagnostic tests include lung biopsy, positron emissions tomography or PET scans, and sputum cytology.
Your doctor may perform your lung biopsy through one of various methods. Advancements in medical technology made it possible for doctors to use a wide range of devices and methods such as computerized tomography or CT scans, echocardiography, and bronchoscopy; these methods use a biopsy needle to remove the tissue needed for biopsy.
However, many doctors prefer to use mediastinoscopy, one of the first methods used for lung biopsy. During a mediastinoscopy, a small incision is surgically made in the neck, near the breastbone. A scope is then inserted into the incision so lung tissue can be collected for biopsy. A mediastinoscopy is still considered highly reliable, especially when other methods don’t yield conclusive results.
At this point, some patients require surgery to relieve the pain or discomfort caused by lung cancer. A procedure called thoracentesis drains the fluid that has accumulated between the lungs and the chest wall. Once the fluid is completely removed, doctors can conduct further studies on why it’s there in the first place.
The progression of lung cancer
Like all types of cancer, the progress of lung cancer is measured in stages. In stage one lung cancer, cancerous cells are found only in the lungs. By the time the disease progresses into its second stage, the cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes or the chest wall. Lung cancer is in the third stage when the lungs, lymph nodes, and nearby organs such as the esophagus, trachea, and heart are affected by cancer cells.
In the final stage of lung cancer, cancer cells have spread from the chest cavity to other parts of the body, including the brain, liver, and bones. As lung cancer metastasizes or spreads, the chances of treatment being effective become smaller and smaller.
Treatment and prognosis for lung caner
The earlier the cancer is discovered and diagnosed, the higher the success rate of the treatment is. Oncologists and cancer specialists say that early diagnosis is the most important factor in survival rates of patients suffering from lung cancer. Many patients die from lung cancer because the disease is so widespread in the body that treatment is no longer effective against it.
Treatment methods for lung cancer tend to be aggressive. Doctors typically remove the cancerous tumors from the body using surgery, along with radiation or chemotherapy. In some cases, a combination of radiation and chemotherapy is used.
Surgery is the best course to take when lung cancer is diagnosed early enough. At this stage, the cancer has probably not metastasized to other parts of the body yet. During the surgery, cancerous areas are completely cut out of the body. However, patients undergoing tumor removal surgery must be healthy enough to withstand the surgery and their lungs must be adequately functional. Depending on the extent of the cancer, surgeons may remove an entire lung, a full lobe, or just a partial lobe.
In cases where lung cancer is caught early enough, the surgical removal of tumors is usually an effective cure for the disease. In fact, cure rates for surgery at this stage of lung cancer is at 80 percent. Unfortunately, many patients who undergo surgery for tumor removal suffer from recurrence even if the cancer is completely removed.
Many cases of lung cancer are treated through chemotherapy, which uses powerful medicine to kill the cancer cells in your body. Chemotherapy does not completely cure cancer, but it is said to be effective at slowing or stopping the spread of cancer throughout the body. Chemotherapy can be administered intravenously or orally. You’re probably familiar with the side effects of chemotherapy, which include hair loss, vomiting, and weight loss. Chemotherapy on its own can be used to treat small cancers, and it can also be used in combination with surgery.
Radiation can also be used to destroy cancer cells. In radiation, cancer cells are destroyed through highly powerful X-rays. Radiation therapy is often used to make patients suffering from lung cancer more comfortable, as radiation can shrink tumors that impede swallowing or make breathing difficult by blocking airways. Patients who are too weak for surgical tumor removal usually undergo radiation therapy. Unfortunately, radiation therapy on its own is not powerful enough to treat cancer. This is why it’s often used to support primary treatments like surgery or chemotherapy.
Aside from surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, cancer specialists and oncologists also usually prescribe a wide variety of strong medications for easing the discomfort or pain brought by lung cancer. Patients with lung cancer often take narcotic pain relievers such as morphine, codeine, and synthetic opiates like Oxycontin. Swelling and the pain it causes may be treated using steroids like Prednisone.
For many people with lung cancer, mental and emotional health is affected as well. This is why many lung cancer patients use antidepressants; these medicines help reduce the anxiety or emotional pain caused by the disease. Lung cancer patients living in states where medical marijuana use is legal also find some relief in using the substance.