The global prevalence of lung cancer is quite alarming. In 2018 alone, around 2.1 million new cases of this cancer were diagnosed worldwide, finds GLOBOCAN, an online database for cancer. This accounts for 11.6 per cent of the world’s total cancer burden, suggest their figures. According to the estimates of GLOBOCAN, 2018 witnessed 1.76 million lung cancer deaths, globally, the mortality rate being the highest in North America and Europe.
What is Lung Cancer?
Under normal circumstances, the cells of your body die when they are old or damaged. But there are times when they overgrow and multiply inappropriately leading to tumours and other complications. This condition is known as cancer. In case of lung cancer the abnormal cell division occurs in the lungs resulting in tumours and lumps. Typically, this cancer manifests itself through persistent cough, blood in the cough and shortness of breath. Your risk of lung cancer increases if you smoke or are exposed to a gas called radon and toxic substances such as asbestos or diesel.
Types of Lung Cancer
There are two types of lung cancer: Small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) and Non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC).
Small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC)
In this type of a lung cancer, the malignant cells appear small and round under a microscope. Though it affects lesser number of people while compared to NSCLS, SCLC is more aggressive in terms of development. Smoking is the major culprit behind it. However, this form of lung cancer responds well to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSLC)
The cells of this form of lung cancer are larger than those of SCLC. NSLC, which is more common than SCLC, take time to develop. So you may not experience symptoms at the initial stage. In fact, it may not even attack the nearby tissues or need immediate treatment. In this type of lung cancer also, smoking is one of the major culprits among others.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Whatever the form be, the manifestations of lung cancer usually remain the same. In most cases, the symptoms start showing up at a much later stage. Here are the red flags to watch out for:
- Persistent cough
- Blood in the cough
- Chest pain that troubles you more while laughing, coughing or breathing deeply
- Hoarseness of voice
- shortness of breath
- weakness and fatigue
- loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Respiratory infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
- Lymph nodes in your neck or collarbone
- Severe pain in your bones, particularly of the back, ribs and neck
- Numbness in your legs or arms
- Body balance issues
- Droopy eyelid (caused by the pressure exerted by a tumour on facial nerves)
- Muscular fatigue
- Fluid retention
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
What Causes Lung Cancer?
Almost anyone can get this condition. However, certain factors make you more vulnerable to lung cancer.
It includes both active and passive smoking and is the foremost reason for the development of lung cancer. According to studies, smoking ultra-long or long cigarettes can put you at a greater risk of lung cancer.
Exposure to toxins
Heavy exposure to metals like asbestos, radon, uranium or arsenic might increase your risk of suffering from lung cancer. This is common in people working in a cement factory or construction field. Cadmium, chromium and nickel are other substances that can cause lung cancer.
Lung cancer can run in families as well. According some studies, people with genetic mutation have a higher chance of getting lung cancer as compared to heavy smokers with or without the inherited mutation.
Lung scarring from any prior illness
There is an increased risk of suffering from lung cancer if you had any prior illness of the lungs or have suffered an injury in the organ.
Due to environmental pollution, lung cancer is increasing rapidly among Indian women in the 45 to 55 age group. Fine particulate matters in the air that lodge themselves in the lungs cause harm over time.
Stages of Lung Cancer
The stage of cancer tells us about the spread of the condition. This is crucial for deciding the treatment modality. Cancer stages tell how far the cancer has spread and help guide treatment. While NSLC has four main stages, SCLC has two stages.
Stages of non-small cell lung cancer:
Stage 1: Cancer cells haven’t spread outside the lung.
Stage 2: Cancer cells are present in the lung and nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 3: Apart from the lungs, cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes located in the middle of the chest.
Stage 3A: Malignant cells are present only on the lymph nodes of the chest area where the cancer originated from.
Stage 3B: Cancer cells are present in the lymph nodes of the chest area opposite to the point of origination or to those above the collarbone.
Stage 4: Malignant cells are found in both the lungs or to distant organs.
Stages of small-cell lung cancer
Limited stage: At this stage, malignant cells are found in only one lung or lymph nodes close to it.
Extensive stage: At this stage, cancer cells are found in both the lungs, the fluid around them, bone marrow and distant organs.
Diagnosis of lung cancer
If your doctor suspects lung cancer after reviewing your symptoms, he may recommend the following tests for a confirmatory diagnosis.
Imaging tests: Computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans are imaging studies that help your doctor spot lung tissues with cancer. He may also suggest a bone scan to identify cancerous growths. These tests are also required to figure out your body’s response to treatment.
Tissue sampling: If the imaging studies reveal a suspicious lesion then your lung tissue needs to be sampled to identify cancerous cells. Tissue samples can be collected with needles or through minimally-invasive procedures like bronchoscopy and mediastinoscopy.
Lab testing: Your doctor may also recommend sputum or blood tests to identify the type of lung cancer you have. These tests will also tell your doctor about the stage of cancer.
Treatment for Lung Cancer
The treatment of this condition may vary on the basis of location, stage and overall health status of an individual. Here are the treatment modalities that your oncologist may resort to:
The aim of surgical intervention is to remove cancerous tissues in the lungs and surrounding areas. Your physician may have to remove one lung altogether or a segment of it, depending on your condition.
This is a very powerful intervention in which drugs are used shrink or obliterate rapidly dividing cancerous cells. It works especially well for people with an advanced stage of this cancer. However, chemotherapy comes with its own set of side effects.
In this method high-energy rays kill cancer cells and reduce the size of malignant tumours prior to surgical removal. It works best when the cancer cells or tumour are confined to one location.
This therapy targets a particular action of cancer cells and tries to fix it. For example, one targeted therapy may aim to stop cancer cells from multiplying.
Lung Cancer Diet
There’s no diet or menu meant specifically for lung cancer. However, a balanced meal plan that nourishes your body well can help you combat the side effects of treatments. Also, in the course of your treatment, your nutritional needs and food tolerance may be altered. So, consult your physician and nutritionist for ant change in diet that your body needs. Here are some dietary tips that will make you feel better if you follow them well:
- Stick to small, frequent meals if you have lost appetite.
- If you have lost a lot of weight, rely on low-sugar high calorie foods and beverages.
- High-fibre fruits and vegetables will be your go-to option if you are experiencing constipation.
- Chemotherapy can wreak havoc with your digestive system. You can soothe it with mint and ginger tea.
- Rely on bland food instead of spicy ones if you are experiencing mouth ulcers.
Reduce your Risk of Lung Cancer
No form of cancer, including lung cancer, can be prevented. However, you can reduce your chance of falling prey to this condition.
- Say no to smoking. Join smoking cessation programmes if need be. Avoiding secondhand smoke is also equally important.
- Avoid secondhand smoke. If you live or work with a smoker, urge him or her to quit. At the very least, ask him or her to smoke outside. Avoid areas where people smoke, such as bars and restaurants, and seek out smoke-free options.
- Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins like radon, uranium, arsenic, nickel, etc. If your workplace demands you to come in close contact with these, wear a face mask.
- Include a lot of fruits and vegetables in your meals
- Exercise regularly. Also, practising breathing techniques will improve your overall lung health.