Lung Cancer Awareness: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention & More
Every year since 1995, November has been marked as Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
According to the lung cancer statistics shared by the WRCF, lung cancer mortalities reached 1,796,144 in 2020.
Currently, lung cancer is the 2nd most common type of cancer in the world, while it is the most common type of cancer in men.
As per the American Cancer Society, 80% of lung cancer related mortalities are caused by cigarette smoking.
Due to the alarming state of lung cancer statistics, healthcare organisations must continue to raise lung cancer awareness. For that reason, we have put together this detailed article to raise lung cancer awareness.
This article will cover:
- Introduction to Lung Cancer
- Lung Cancer Survival Rate
- Different Types of Lung Cancer
- Lung Cancer Stages
- Lung Cancer Causes
- Lung Cancer Symptoms
- Lung Cancer Diagnosis
- Lung Cancer Treatment
- Lung Cancer Prevention
- Who Should Get Screened for Lung Cancer?
- Helpful Resources on How To Quit Smoking
- FAQs Related to Lung Cancer
Let’s get started.
Lung Cancer Definition
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention state that “Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the lungs, it is called lung cancer.”
Now that you are familiar with lung cancer’s definition, let’s further explore this form of cancer.
What is Lung Cancer?
The lining of your lungs is composed of a wall of cells. A genetic mutation triggered by certain risk factors, which we will discuss later in the article, causes these cells to start growing abnormally. This glitch in a person’s DNA gets the cells stuck in a state of continuous replication. As a result, a malignant mass is formed, called a tumour.
The tumour starts to damage healthy lung tissue. This affects a person’s ability to breathe, which directly impedes the supply of oxygen to other parts of the body.
The tumour formed due to this abnormal growth of cells is called cancer. Coupled with its location, we get the term “lung cancer.”
Lung cancer, in most cases, is terminal. The overall statistic for the survival rate after 5 years of diagnosis is .
A survival rate statistic provides an estimate of the percentage of surviving patients who were diagnosed with a similar type and stage of cancer over a specific period (generally 5 years). It is important to note that this statistic is just an estimate, and by no means does it predict the outcome of a specific case.
The main reason behind lung cancer’s low rate of survival is that it metastasizes swiftly to other body parts soon after the tumour forms. Hence, the patient becomes susceptible to other medical complications and diseases. Lung cancer awareness is also suboptimal, which also causes it to go unrecognised until it is too late.
Lung cancer is categorized into two main types:
- Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
- Small Cell Lung Cancer
NSCLC makes up about 80%–85% of all lung cancers. There are three main subtypes of NSCLC.
The abnormal growth of different types of cells causes the below-mentioned subtypes of NSCLC. The treatment and prognosis for these subtypes are alike, which is why they are grouped together.
The subtypes of NSCLC are:
- Adenocarcinoma is caused by the mutation of mucus-secreting cells.
- It is often located in the outer portion of the lung.
- Its location makes it more probable for it to be diagnosed before it spreads.
- Adenocarcinoma is most often linked to younger people.
- This type of lung cancer is relatively more common in women.
- It occurs mainly in active smokers or people with a history of smoking. However, adenocarcinoma is also the most likely type of cancer to be found in non-smokers.
2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma
- The inner layer of the airway in the lungs is lined by flat cells called squamous cells. Squamous Cell Carcinoma is caused by the abnormal mutation of these cells.
- It is most commonly located near the bronchus, the main airway that is present in the central part of the lungs.
- It is most commonly found in people who have a smoking history.
3. Large Cell Carcinoma
- Large cell carcinoma has been observed to appear in any part of the lung.
- This type of cancer forms and metastasizes rapidly to other parts of the body.
- Due to this, large cell carcinoma is more difficult to treat.
Some other rare subtypes of NSCLC include Sarcomatoid Carcinoma and Adenosquamous Carcinoma.
Also known as Oat Cell Cancer, SCLC accounts for 10%-15% of lung cancers.
- SCLC forms and metastasizes much faster than NSCLC.
- In around 70% of SCLC cases, cancer has already spread to other parts by the time it is diagnosed.
- This type of cancer is generally treated through radiation or chemotherapy.
- This type of cancer is likely to reoccur after a period of remission.
Additional Types of Lung Cancer
- Lung Carcinoid Tumours: This type of cancer accounts for less than 5% of lung cancer. The growth rate of this cancer is slow.
- Rare Types of Lung Cancer: Some other very rare types of lung cancer include sarcomas, lymphomas, adenoid cystic carcinomas, and hamartomas.
- Cancer Originating Elsewhere: Cancer from other organs can also spread to the lungs. However, these are not considered lung cancer.
Staging of lung cancer points out the degree of the spread of cancer. It also helps in identifying cancer treatment.
Both main types of cancer, NSCLC and SCLC, have different stages.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
- Stage 1 Lung Cancer: The cancer is limited to the lung at this stage.
- Stage 2 Lung Cancer: The cancer is limited to the chest at this stage.
- Stage 3 Lung Cancer: The cancer is limited to the chest at this stage, but the tumours are more aggressive and growing larger in size.
- Stage 4 Lung Cancer: At this stage, cancer has already spread to the other parts of the body.
Small Cell Lung Cancer
- Limited-Stage Lung Cancer: The cancer is limited to the chest area at this stage.
- Extensive-Stage Lung Cancer: At this stage, cancer has already spread to other parts of the body.
These are the main lung cancer risk factors:
Smoking is the main cause of more than 80% of lung cancers. Active smokers are at great risk. This risk increases with the number of years a person has smoked and the number of cigarettes smoked daily. If a person quits before cancer cells can form, the damaged lung tissue will automatically start healing.
• Genetic Predisposition
The growth and division of cells are controlled by your body through the instructions carried by your genes. Individuals with a family history of lung cancer are more susceptible to lung cancer, even if they are non-smokers.
• Radon Exposure
Radon exposure is the most common cause of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke. It is a naturally occurring, invisible gas with no taste or smell. Breathing radon indoors can cause your lungs to be exposed to radiation, which may increase the risk of lung cancer.
• Asbestos Exposure
Exposure to asbestos in workplaces (mines, insulated areas, textile plants, etc.) can make one more likely to develop lung cancer. The risk is even higher if smoking is combined with asbestos exposure.
An individual may require radiation therapy to the chest for some other disease. However, this exposure to radiation increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
Some other lung cancer causes include passive smoking, air pollution, old age, exposure to other radioactive elements, beta-carotene dietary supplements, arsenic, etc.
In this section, we will discuss lung cancer symptoms in detail.
The American Cancer Society notes that in most lung cancers, signs of lung cancer do not show up until cancer has spread. However, in some early-stage lung cancers, symptoms can be observed.
Some of the most common early signs of lung cancer are:
- A persistent cough that gets worse with time, lasting more than 3 weeks.
- Signs of blood in the sputum (rust-coloured sputum)
- Patients with lung cancer often cough up blood.
- Shortness of breath
- Recurring or resistant infection in the chest
- Croaky voice and/or wheezing
- Loss of weight that can’t be explained
- Fatigue and/or weakness
In cases where lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body, symptoms include:
- Experiencing pain in the bones, in case cancer spreads to the bones.
- Changes in the nervous system (numbness, headaches, dizziness, etc.), in case cancer spreads to the brain.
- Jaundice, in case cancer spreads to the liver.
- Lymph nodes swell up
Is There A Difference Between The Symptoms Of Lung Cancer In Men And Women?
The symptoms of lung cancer in women are often the same as the symptoms of lung cancer in men. The treatment options for lung cancer in women are also similar to men.
Lung cancer in men is more likely to attack the airways, which means that the more common symptoms of lung cancer in males include difficulty in breathing and a persistent cough. Lung cancer in women, in some cases, may also cause pain in the back or shoulders, and fatigue.
When Should I Call The Doctor?
To be honest, many other respiratory issues can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, etc. In fact, these symptoms are very common.
However, if you have suddenly developed an irrepressible cough that isn’t going away or if you are experiencing unexplained shortness of breath, you should check in with your doctor. Also, observing blood in sputum and/or coughing up blood should warrant a prompt visit to the doctor.
Doctors often discover lung cancer while treating a patient for an entirely different purpose. It often shows up on a CT scan or a chest X-ray.
However, the usual process of lung diagnosis is as follows:
- Going over Family and/or Medical History
- Checking for Lung Cancer Risk Factors
- Checking for Lung Cancer Symptoms
- Physical Examination
During this process, if the doctor sees a red flag, they will refer you for further tests, which may include:
- Chest X-Ray
- Low-Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) Scan
- PET Scan
- MRI Scan
- Sputum Testing
- Endobronchial Ultrasound (EBUS)
- Fine-Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNA)
If the doctors detect cancer cells in any of the above tests, they will conduct some further tests to identify the type of lung cancer, stage the lung cancer, predict its growth and spread, and ascertain the best treatment options.
The treatment for lung cancer depends on the stage of lung cancer and various other factors. This is why cancer treatment may differ from other cases.
Research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that there is a better chance of successful treatment if you quit smoking, even after the diagnosis.
Let’s discuss the treatment options for lung cancer.
Treatment through Surgery
Surgery is the best option for patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) that is early-stage and has not spread.
Here are the different types of surgery options for lung cancer:
- Lobectomy: The surgeon will remove the entire cancerous lobe from the lung.
- Sleeve Resection: The surgeon will remove the cancerous lobe and the main bronchus from the lung.
- Segmentectomy: The surgeon may remove up to four segments from the cancerous lobe and spare the remaining lobe.
- Wedge Resection: The surgeon will remove the tumour and the surrounding tissue.
- Pneumonectomy: In severe cases, the surgeon will perform a pneumonectomy to remove the entire lung.
Chemotherapy, also known as chemo, is a method of treatment using anti-cancer drugs that attack cancerous cells. The drugs can be injected intravenously or taken orally. Chemotherapy drugs travel to most parts of the body through the bloodstream.
Unfortunately, these drugs do not discriminate among the cells and kill healthy cells too. Loss of hair is an infamous side-effect of chemotherapy.
The main drawback of chemotherapy is that it kills both, cancerous and healthy cells. With Targeted Therapy, doctors can precisely target only the cancer cells. This type of treatment can be used for all types of lung cancer, after performing some molecular tests.
Immunotherapy is a relatively new option for cancer treatment that has shown promising results. It uses drugs to programme and supercharges your immune cells to fight and kill cancer cells. Several immunotherapy drugs for lung cancer have gained FDA approval and are being used to fight advanced-stage lung cancer.
Radiation therapy involves the use of high-powered rays to kill cancerous cells.
External-Beam Radiation Beam Therapy uses an external machine to expose the cancerous cells to high-energy rays.
With Brachytherapy, or Internal Radiation Therapy, the doctors place a radioactive particle directly at the site of the tumour to kill cancer cells.
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
RFA is a cancer treatment procedure in which doctors insert a needle-thin probe into the skin and use a CT scan to place it on top of the tumour. After placing the probe and confirming its correct location, they pass a high-energy electric current to heat the tumour and destroy cancer cells.
Preventing lung cancer is not always possible. However, you may be able to lower the risk of developing lung cancer by following the below-mentioned points.
- Quitting smoking is of paramount importance if you want to avoid lung cancer. If you smoke, you are 15 to 30 times more likely (as compared to non-smokers) to develop or die from lung cancer.
- You can lower your chance of getting lung cancer by 20–30% if you avoid breathing in other people’s smoke. Second-hand smoke has been linked to cancer.
- It is possible to avoid radon exposure by getting your home inspected for radon.
- Avoid exposure to asbestos by getting your home inspected by professionals.
- Make sure that your home and workplace are safe from other cancer-related particles and agents.
- Maintaining a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables has been linked to cancer prevention.
- Raising lung cancer awareness can also lead to people being more informed on the matter and take action early.
You should get screened for lung cancer if:
- You are older than 40 years.
- You have smoked for 20 years.
- You are a current smoker.
- You have quit smoking within the past 15 years.
A Low-Dose CT, more commonly known as an LDCT, is the only recommended screening test for lung cancer. It is a high-resolution scan with a safe dose of radiation that creates a detailed image of the lungs. An LDCT is available at Shaukat Khanum Diagnostic Centre, Liberty, and at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, Peshawar.
This Lung Cancer Awareness Month, let’s resolve against cigarette smoking.
To help you in the fight against lung cancer, here are some helpful resources that will help you quit smoking.
- GOP’s Helpline to Quit Smoking is 0336 5655654.
- Smoking rehabilitation centres in Pakistan
- Downloadable PDF on How to Quit Smoking by AAFP
- The CDC’s Guide on How to Quit Smoking
- Further CDC resources
- gov resources
- Dr Imran-ul-Hasan, Consultant Pulmonologist at Shaukat Khanum, Lahore, talks about the harmful effects of smoking.
Sharing these resources with at-risk individuals will help raise lung cancer awareness. You can play your part by sharing these lung cancer awareness resources with people you can identify as high-risk individuals.
In the end, we answer the most frequently asked questions related to lung cancer.
Can You Get Lung Cancer Without Smoking?
Smoking is the undisputed leading cause of lung cancer. However, non-smokers can get lung cancer due to some other lung cancer risk factors, such as genetics, radon exposure, etc.
How Do You Know If You Have Lung Cancer?
A persistent cough, blood in the cough or sputum, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, recurring chest infection, fatigue, and wheezing are the first signs of lung cancer. Having one or more of these symptoms may not conclusively mean that you have lung cancer. However, you should promptly consult your doctor.
What Is The Life Expectancy Of Someone With Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer, in most cases, is terminal. The overall statistic for the survival rate after 5 years of diagnosis is nearly 17%. A survival rate statistic provides an estimate of the percentage of surviving patients who were diagnosed with a similar type and stage of cancer over a specific period (generally 5 years). It is important to note that this statistic is just an estimate, and by no means does it predict the outcome of a specific case.
Can Lung Cancer Be Cured?
Cancer treatment methods include targeted therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA), and, in some cases, surgery may be performed to remove the tumour.
Does Lung Cancer Spread Quickly?
Lung cancer is usually aggressive and metastasizes swiftly to other body parts soon after the tumour forms. This leaves the patient susceptible to other medical complications and diseases. It usually goes undetected until it has spread to other body parts.
What Is The Main Cause Of Lung Cancer?
As per the CDC, the number one lung cancer cause is cigarette smoking. Tobacco smoke contains up to 7,000 toxic chemicals, many of which are poisonous, and 70 of them have been linked to cancer.
Does Smoking Weed Cause Lung Cancer?
A research study conducted in New Zealand concluded that long-term use of cannabis can increase the risk of developing lung cancer in young adults.
What Causes Lung Cancer?
The main lung cancer causes include smoking, passive smoking, genetic predisposition, radon exposure, asbestos exposure, and long-term, or high-energy, radiation exposure.
- November is marked as lung cancer awareness month.
- Lung cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that largely goes undetected until it has metastasized to other parts of the body.
- Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. It is imperative that you quit smoking to avoid developing lung cancer.
- If you have an unexplained persistent cough, wheezing, bloody sputum, shortness of breath, and constant fatigue, you should get tested for lung cancer.
- The success rate of cancer treatment depends on early detection.
- Treatment depends on the type of lung cancer, lung cancer stage, and case-specific variables.
- Avoiding lung cancer risk factors can minimise your chances of getting lung cancer.