What Is Lung Cancer?
It’s cancer that starts in your lungs and can spread to other parts of your body. Although it’s one of the top causes of cancer deaths worldwide, it’s also one of the most preventable kinds, by not smoking and avoiding other people’s secondhand smoke.
The disease almost always starts in the spongy, pinkish gray walls of the lungs’ airways (called bronchi or bronchioles) or air sacs (called alveoli). There are more than 20 kinds. The two main types are non-small cell lung cancer and small-cell lung cancer. At first, you may not have any symptoms.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Adenocarcinoma is the most common kind of this. It makes up 40% of all lung cancer cases. It mainly happens in people who smoke (or who used to). And it’s also the No. 1 type of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to the American Cancer Society. More women get it than men. People with this type tend to be younger than those with other kinds. Adenocarcinoma can spread to the lymph nodes, bones, or other organs such as the liver.
Squamous cell carcinoma usually starts in the lung’s largest branches, which doctors call the “central bronchi.”
This type accounts for 30% of lung cancers, and it’s more common in men and people who smoke. It may form a cavity within the tumor. It often involves the larger airways. It may make you cough up some blood.
Squamous cell carcinoma can also spread to the lymph nodes, bones, and other organs such as the liver.
Large-cell carcinomas are a group of cancers with large cells that tend to start along the lungs’ outer edges. They’re rarer than adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, making up 10%-15% of lung cancers. This type of tumor can grow faster and often spreads to nearby lymph nodes and distant parts of the body.
Small Cell Lung Cancer
This is the most aggressive form of the disease. It usually starts in the lungs’ large, central bronchi. Almost all people who get it are smokers. It spreads quickly, often before symptoms appear. Many times, it spreads to the liver, bone, and brain.
The outlook for someone with lung cancer depends on a lot of things, including what type they have, their overall health, and how advanced the disease is when doctors find it.
What Causes Lung Cancer?
Smoking is the biggest reason. It’s responsible for about 85% of all cases.
Quitting cuts the risk. Former smokers are still slightly more likely to get it than nonsmokers.
There are also other reasons. Some genetic glitches may put some people at higher risk.
Secondhand tobacco smoke is also a cause. People who live with someone who smokes are 20% to 30% more likely to get lung cancer than those who live in a smoke-free home.
Some other chemicals are risky, too. People who work with asbestos or are exposed to uranium dust or the radioactive gas radon are more likely to get lung cancer, especially if they smoke.
Lung tissue that was scarred by a disease or infection, such as scleroderma or tuberculosis, becomes at risk for tumors in that tissue. Doctors call this a scar carcinoma.
Some researchers think that diet may also influence your risk. But that’s not clear yet.
How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?
Your doctor may suspect lung cancer if a routine physical exam reveals:
- Swollen lymph nodes above the collarbone;
- Weak breathing;
- Abnormal sounds in the lungs;
- Dullness when the chest is tapped;
- Unequal pupils;
- Droopy eyelids;
- Weakness in one arm;
- Expanded veins in the arms, chest, or neck;
- Swelling of the face.
Some lung cancers produce abnormally high blood levels of certain hormones or substances such as calcium. If a person shows such evidence and no other cause is apparent, a doctor should consider lung cancer.
Lung cancer, which originates in the lungs, can also spread to other parts of the body, such as distant bones, the liver, adrenal glands, or the brain. It may be first discovered in a distant location, but is still called lung cancer if there is evidence it started there.
Once lung cancer begins to cause symptoms, it is usually visible on an X-ray. Occasionally, lung cancer that has not yet begun to cause symptoms is spotted on a chest X-ray taken for another purpose. A CT scan of the chest may be ordered for a more detailed exam.
How can you Treat Lung Cancer?
Your doctors will plan your lung cancer treatment based on what you need. It will depend in part on:
- What type of the disease you have;
- Its stage;
- Whether the cancer has spread in your body;
- The side effects the treatment may cause;
- Your age and general health;
- Your preferences and goals.
The therapeutic options are:
this is an option when the cancer hasn’t spread too far in your body. It’s usually the best way to treat non-small-cell lung cancer.
Your doctor can remove the part of the lung that has the tumor and the tissue around it. Or you may need to have your entire lung removed. You might also need radiation or chemotherapy after surgery.
After the operation, you might need to stay in the hospital for about a week to heal before you go home to recover. However, minimally invasive procedures are being used more and more often. If you opt for one of those, you may get a tiny incision in the chest. Your surgeon will use a thoracoscope, a flexible tube that is used to examine the chest and get rid of tissue.
If you have small-cell lung cancer, it might not be possible to remove it in an operation.
If you have non-small cell lung cancer and can’t have surgery, this treatment may be an option.
Your doctor guides a thin needle through your skin until it touches the tumor inside your lung. Then an electric current passes through it to heat and kill the cancer cells.
doctors use a machine to point high-energy X-rays at a tumor to destroy it. It works for both non-small-cell and small-cell lung cancers.
You get radiation treatments a few days at a time over several weeks. You might get it before surgery to shrink a tumor to make it easier to remove, or after surgery to kill any cancer cells left behind. Some people get it in combination with chemotherapy.
It can also help relieve some of the symptoms of lung cancer, such as pain or bleeding.
These medicines kill cancer cells in the body. It’s an option for both types of lung cancer.
You might get chemo before or after surgery, combined with radiation therapy. Or it might be your main treatment if surgery won’t work for you.
Your doctor may prescribe one type of chemo drug or a mix of different ones. You’ll get them through an IV at a treatment center or hospital. You may need a few rounds of treatment over several weeks.
Researchers are constantly looking for better ways to treat lung cancer and help people feel better and live longer. Scientists are studying new combinations of chemotherapy, new forms of radiation, and drugs that make cancer cells morsensitive to radiation.
Doctors treating you in Austria through AT-MED
Prof. Univ. Dr. Christian Singer, obstetrician-gynecologist
Prof. Univ. Dr. Johannes Drach, internist, specialist in haemato-oncology
Prof. Univ. Dr. Schillinger Martin, cardiologist, angiologist
Prof. Univ. Dr. Ulrich Steinhart, obstetrician-gynecologist
Dr. Rainer Kotz, Orthopedics and endoprotection
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