Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, many people know very little about this disease in terms of symptoms, diagnosis, or treatment. Raising awareness about lung cancer can help you better prevent or get rid of it. Here is some basic information that can give you a general understanding of lung cancer.
The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). The former makes up about 80-85% of cases, and the latter makes up the remaining 15-20%. The most common symptoms of lung cancer include persistent cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing up blood in a later stage. However, many of these symptoms may also be caused by other conditions, such as COPD and other respiratory diseases. and not everyone with lung cancer will have them.
The most common risk factors for lung cancer include smoking, exposure to air pollution, radon gas, or other hazardous chemicals, among which smoking ranks first, responsible for 90% of lung cancer deaths. Quitting smoking and reducing exposure to pollutants, can greatly reduce the risk of lung cancer.
The survival rate for lung cancer varies depending on the stage at which it is diagnosed. The earlier it is diagnosed, the higher chance you can survive. The five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer is about 56%, which drops to 5% for people with advanced-stage lung cancer.
Lung cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage and has a lower survival rate as a result of the lack of symptoms and often not being picked up on screening tests, which is why it is important to be aware of the risk factors and to have regular check-ups, especially people with COPD or other breathing problems who are at higher risk of lung cancer. The followings are several tests and procedures that can be used to diagnose lung cancer. Some common diagnostic tests include:
Chest X-ray: This test can show tumors or other abnormalities in the lungs.
Computed tomography (CT) scan: This test uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of the chest. It can help identify small tumors and determine the stage of cancer.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: This test uses a strong magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of the chest.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: This test uses a small amount of radioactive material to create images of the inside of the chest. It can help identify the stage of cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.
Bronchoscopy: This is a procedure in which a thin, flexible tube with a light and a small camera is inserted through the nose or mouth and down into the lungs to examine the airways and take samples of suspicious tissue.
Biopsy: This is a procedure in which a small piece of tissue is taken from the lung and examined under a microscope to determine if cancer is present.
After a diagnosis of lung cancer is made, further tests may be required to determine the stage of cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body, this is known as a Staging workup. Based on the stage and other factors, treatment options will be discussed with the patient and a treatment plan will be developed.
Treatment options for lung cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. The treatment plan will depend on the stage and type of cancer and the overall health of the patient.
Surgery: used to remove the cancerous tumor and a margin of healthy tissue around it.
Radiation therapy: uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This treatment can be delivered externally, using a machine that directs the radiation at the tumor, or internally, using radioactive material placed directly into the tumor.
Chemotherapy: uses drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs can be administered intravenously or orally, and they travel throughout the body to reach and destroy cancer cells.
Immunotherapy: a type of treatment that helps the immune system fight cancer. This can be done with drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, which block specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells, or with T-cell therapy, which uses the patient's own immune cells to attack cancer.
Targeted therapy: a type of treatment that targets specific molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. It causes fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.
A multimodal approach by the combination of two or more treatments tends to have better outcomes. Treatment options and recommendations will be decided after consulting a team of cancer specialists like a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and thoracic surgeon.
It is important to note that early detection is always the key to increasing the chance of survival with lung cancer treatment. Apart from medical treatments, certain exercises like yoga and meditation also alleviate your pain and symptoms. Oxygen therapy can be another good choice to help you breathe easier by providing supplemental oxygen.