by Kimberly Allen, RN
Lung cancer is the number one cause of death by cancer in both men and women not only in the US but worldwide. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be approximately 228,190 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the US with approximately 160,000 deaths due to lung cancer this year. In fact every year there are more people that die from lung cancer than from breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancers combined.
Smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer. However, you don’t need to be a smoker to get lung cancer, people that are exposed to second hand smoke are also at risk. The greater your exposure to second hand smoke the greater your chances of developing lung cancer. Cigarettes are loaded with cancer causing agents and when you inhale the cigarette smoke there are changes that take place in your lung tissue immediately. In the beginning your body is able to repair the damage, however, each time your lungs are exposed to the cigarette smoke the normal cells that make up the lining of your lungs become more and more damaged. It is this damage that causes the cells to change and act abnormally that tends to cause lung cancer to develop. There are also people that have never smoked or had any significant exposure to second hand smoke that develop lung cancer. In these cases, doctors are unable to find a clear cause.
There are 2 major types of lung cancer which are determined by their appearance under a microscope, small cell and non-small cell lung cancer. Each grows and spreads differently and require different treatment options so it’s important for your Dr to determine which type it is . The non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) are the most common and account for approximately 80% of all lung cancers. This type is sub-divided into 3 types depending on the type of cell in the tumor. The most common is adenocarcinomas with approximately 50% of NSCLC’s being this type. This type of NSCLC is found in both smokers and non-smokers. There is also bronchioalveolar cancer which is actually a type of adenocarinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma which used to be more common than adenocarconomas now account for approximately 30% of NSCLC’s. small cell lung cancer accounts for approximately 20% of all lung cancers. It develops almost exclusively in heavy smokers with only 1% of this type occurring in non-smokers.
Unfortunately, symptoms of lung cancer rarely develop in the early stages of the disease. By the time you are experiencing symptoms the cancer is advanced. Symptoms that you may notice include a new cough that doesn’t go away or changes in a chronic cough, you may also cough up small amounts of blood. Some people complain of shortness of breath and chest pain. there may also be wheezing and a hoarseness to your voice and weight loss.
Treatment for lung cancer usually is a combination of treatments which may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy as well as targeted drug therapy. There are many factors that you and your Dr will need to consider before deciding on a treatment plan including how advanced your cancer is, your age and overall health condition. In some cases patients choose not to get treatment. In these cases the doctor may recommend palliative treatment.
There is no way to absolutely prevent lung cancer, however, you can significantly reduce your risk by not smoking and if you are a smoker quit now. Even if you’ve smoker for years you can reduce your chances of developing lung cancer by quitting. If you are not a smoker it’s important to avoid second hand smoke especially for prolonged periods of time. If you live with someone that smokes encourage them to quit and offer support in their effort. If the person is unwilling or feels unable to quit then request that they at least smoke outside so that you are not being exposed to the smoke.