About Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is a form of cancer that originates in the lungs—the organs responsible for the inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide. During its development, abnormal cells grow within the lungs, causing so much damage that they eventually invade nearby lung tissue, the lymph nodes, or organs.
There are two major types of lung cancer:
- Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) – Appears almost exclusively in heavy smokers. This type of lung cancer makes up 15% of all lung cancer diagnoses.
- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSLC) – The bulk of lung cancer cases, which behave in a similar manner. The most common of these are:
- Adenocarcinoma (40% of cases)
- Squamous cell carcinoma (30% of cases)
- Large cell carcinoma (10% of cases)
Amongst both men and women, it’s the principal cause of cancer in America. A brief look at the numbers clearly illustrates what a grave threat lung cancer truly is. According to the National Cancer Institute:
- More than 228,000 people in the US are diagnosed with lung cancer every year.
- Of these, 10% to 15% have never smoked.
- 156,000 Americans die from lung cancer annually.
Of the 200,000+ people diagnosed, the average age at the time of diagnosis is approximately 70 years old.
Causes and Risk Factors of Lung Cancer
Although the exact causes behind cancerous mutation in the cells remains unknown, lung cancer has some of the clearest links between behavioral patterns and its development, especially when compared to various other types of cancer. Common risk factors include:
- Smoking – Over time, the risk of cancer increases proportionally with the amount of smoking you do and the frequency of smoking. Another contributing factor to consider is the duration of the habit. Even if you have smoked for years, it is still beneficial to quit smoking as soon as possible.
- Secondhand smoke exposure – Even those who don’t smoke can develop cancer by inhaling secondhand smoke from the people around them that regularly do smoke, especially because that smoke has increased levels of toxicity.
- Family history of lung cancer – If you have one or multiple direct family members who developed lung cancer, then you are predisposed to get it as well.
- Older age – Most people are diagnosed after age 70.
- Race – According to studies, “White male smokers consume 30%–40% more cigarettes than their black counterparts, but black male smokers are 34% more likely to develop lung cancer.”
- Exposure to radon gas – Radon is the breakdown of uranium in either soil, water, or rock. Dangerous radon levels can build in just about any building or home in certain areas.
- Exposure to carcinogens – Exposure to asbestos or other substances like chromium, nickel, and arsenic can greatly increase the risk of cancer.
Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging
Lung cancer typically doesn’t produce noticeable symptoms in the early stages. Signs normally only arise when disease has advanced. Potential symptoms of lung cancer may include:
- A persistent cough
- Bone pain
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Inexplicable weight loss
- Shortness of breath
Screening is usually done in one of three ways:
- Imaging tests – An X-ray to look for abnormal masses, or a CT scan to show small lesions.
- Septum cytology – If you have a cough that produces sputum, that sample can be analyzed beneath a microscope to reveal lung cancer cells.
- Lung tissue sample – A biopsy of abnormal cells may be removed and then analyzed.
Stages of Lung Cancer
There are different gradations to stages based upon the TNM classification, which assigns a score according to the TNM factors:
- T – Tumor size and location
- N – The number of lymph nodes involved
- M – Metastasis, how far it has spread
Generally speaking, the stages of lung cancer can be defined as followed:
- Stage I – The cancerous cells or tumor are only in a single lung. At this stage, the cancer has not spread to other organs or lymph nodes.
- Stage II – The cancer has already spread to lymph nodes within the lung, however it has not yet traveled to other organs.
- Stage III – The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes at the center of the chest but has not reached distant organs.
- Stage IV – The cancer has metastasized, spreading throughout the body.
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Lungevity. Types of Lung Cancer. https://lungevity.org/for-patients-caregivers/lung-cancer-101/types-of-lung-cancer
National Cancer Institute. Contents of the SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2016. https://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2016/sections.html
Lathan, C. NCBI. Perspectives of African Americans on Lung Cancer: A Qualitative Analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4391768/
Wexler, A. Medical News Today. What are the stages of lung cancer? (2017). https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/316198.php