What is Lung Cancer?
The lungs are vital organs necessary for breathing and respiration. Lungs cause the gaseous exchange between the inhaled air and blood.
Lung cancer is currently the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the world. In the recent years the incidence of the cancer has increased because of the increasing smoking habits in the people and air pollution.
Cancer of lung is of 4 main types:
- Adenocarcinoma (most common)
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Large cell carcinoma
- Small cell carcinoma
How common is lung cancer?
There are more than one million cases of lung cancer reported in India. The cancer has a male predominance, being common in age groups of 40-70 years.
Causes and Risk Factors for lung cancer
- Tobacco smoking: Most of the lung cancers are associated with cigarette smoking. The cigarette smoke contains several cancer causing agents or carcinogens which alter the cellular DNA in the lungs. These changes occur over a period of time and result in uncontrolled cellular division resulting in cancer in the lungs.
- Radiation exposure: Lung cancer can be caused by exposure to radiation. This is common for people working in the industries that utilize radioactive substances. The radiation causes changes in cellular DNA and higher exposure leads to greater changes and higher risk.
- Industrial hazards: Industrial exposure to asbestos, chromium, uranium, mustard gas increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Asbestos workers are at a five times greater risk of cancer, coupled with chronic cigarette smoking the risk increases by 55 fold. The latent period before the development of cancer is 10-30 years.
- Air pollution: Chronic exposure to air particles causes lung irritation and inflammation which increases the risk of a variety of cancers.
- Heredity: Genetic mutations can also cause lung cancer.
What are the symptoms of Lung cancer?
The cancer may or may not show any symptoms until the patient reaches his 50s.
Symptoms of lung cancer include:
- Cough (dry or blood in spit)
- Dramatic weight loss
- Chest pain
- Difficulty in breathing
- Blood in vomit
How is Lung cancer diagnosed?
- Chest xrays
- Ct scans
- CT scan guided biopsy
- Complete blood count
- PET scan
What are the complications of Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer can have the following complications:
- Coughing of blood
- Diarrhoea, flushing and cyanosis, as a part of carcinoid syndrome which is a complication of especially small cell carcinoma
The other complications are based on the spread of cancer to other parts of the body which can include:
- Bone pain, backache which indicates spread to bones
- Seizures indicating spread to brain
- Neck swellings indicating spread to lymph nodes, etc.
How is Lung Cancer treated?
The biopsy and other investigations aid in staging of the cancer. Once the staging is done, accordingly treatment regimen is started for the patient.Treatment modalities include:
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of certain drugs to remove the targeted cancer cells that surgery could not remove.
- Radiotherapy: Radiation is directed mainly to the affected part to reduce the tumour size.
- Surgery: The surgery can be conservative if only some part of lung tissue is affected and only that part has to be removed. If the cancer has spread, the entire lung has to be removed.Surgery can be accompanied by radiotherapy and chemotherapy in order to reduce the size of the tumour and improve the prognosis.
- Palliative care: In cases where the tumour is inoperable and has spread extensively, palliative treatment in the form of symptomatic therapy and chemo-radiotherapy is given. As the cancer progresses the treatment aims to provide maximum comfort to the patient and a decent quality of life.
What are the lifestyle changes required to manage Lung cancer?
- The most important modifications is to cease smoking. Cigarette smoke is the single most largest risk factor for lung cancer and if one stops smoking, the risk will be greatly reduced.
- Also personal protective measures like standardized masks are important where occupational exposure to asbestos, uranium , mustard gas is present.
- Patient should have a healthy lifestyle and a proper diet.
- In case of family history of lung cancer one should consult their doctor to check for genetic transmission and gene mutations.
How to take care of someone with Lung cancer?
- For a patient of lung cancer it’s important to have a proper psychological support in the form of family.
- The patient should be provided proper rest, proper diet and in severe cases a nurse or caretaker to take care of routine needs of the patient.
- Patient should have appropriate support in order to continue their treatment which will aid in improving the prognosis.
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