Lung Cancer – Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

Lung cancer starts in lungs and usually metastasizes (spreads) to other organs of the body. Two main types of lung type are non-small cell and small cell lung cancer.

Symptoms of non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer are primarily the same.

Early symptoms may include:

  • persisting or worsening cough
  • phlegm or blood in cough
  • chest pain that worsens when you take deep breath, laugh, or cough
  • hoarseness
  • shortness of breath(dyspnea)
  • wheezing
  • weakness and fatigue
  • reduced appetite and weight loss

You might also have frequent respiratory infections like pneumonia or bronchitis.

As cancer metastasizes, additional symptoms depend on where new tumors form. For example, if in the:

  • lymph nodes: lumps, especially in the neck or clavicle (collarbone)
  • bones: bone pain, particularly in the back, ribs, or hips
  • brain or spine: headache, dizziness, balance associated problems, or numbness in arms or legs
  • liver: yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)

Tumors at the upper portion of the lungs can affect facial nerves, leading to drooping of one eyelid, small pupil, or lack of sweating on one side of the face. Together, these symptoms are called Horner syndrome. It can also lead to shoulder pain.

Tumors can press on the large vein that transports blood between the head, arms, and heart. This can lead to swelling of the face, neck, upper chest, and arms.

Lung cancer sometimes make a substance same as hormones, causing a wide variety of symptoms called paraneoplastic syndrome, which include:

Lung cancer and back pain

Back pain is reasonably common in the general population. It’s possible to have lung cancer and independent back pain. Most people having back pain don’t have lung cancer.

Not everyone with lung cancer develops back pain, but many do. For some people, back pain turns out to be one of the primary symptoms of lung cancer.

Back pain can be due to the pressure of large tumors growing in the lungs. It can also mean that cancer has spread to your spine or ribs. As it develops, a cancerous tumor can lead to compaction of the spinal cord.

That can cause neurologic worsening  leading to:

  • weakness of the arms and legs
  • numbness or loss of sensation in the legs and feet
  • urinary and bowel incontinence
  • intervention with the spinal blood supply

Without treatment, back pain due to cancer will continue to aggravate.  Back pain may improve if treatment such as surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy can successfully remove or contract the tumor.

In addition, your doctor can use corticosteroids or recommend pain relievers such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). For more severe pain, opioids such as morphine or oxymorphone may be required.

What causes lung cancer?

Anyone can get lung cancer, but 90 percent of lung cancer cases are the because of smoking.

From the moment you inhale smoke into your lungs, it begins damaging your lung tissue. The lungs can repair the damage, but long term exposure to smoke makes it very difficult for the lungs to keep up the repair.

Once cells are damaged, they start behaving abnormally, increasing the possibilities of developing lung cancer. Small-cell lung cancer is almost always associated with excessive smoking. When you stop smoking, you reduce your risk of lung cancer over time.

Radon enters buildings through small cracks in the foundation. Smokers who are also exposed to radon have a very high risk of lung cancer.

Exposure to radon, a naturally existing radioactive gas, is the second major cause, according to the American Lung Association.

Breathing in other hazardous substances, particularly over a prolonged duration of time, can also cause lung cancer. A type of lung cancer called mesothelioma is nearly always caused by exposure to asbestos.

Other substances that can cause lung cancer are:

  • arsenic
  • cadmium
  • chromium
  • nickel
  • some petroleum products
  • uranium

Inherited genetic mutations increases your risk of developing lung cancer, mainly if you smoke or are exposed to other carcinogens.

Sometimes, there’s no exact reason behind the development of lung cancer.

Are there different types of lung cancer?

The most common type of lung cancer is non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). NSCLC constitutes up about 80 to 85 percent of all cases. Thirty percent of these cases begin in the cells that make the lining of the body’s cavities and surfaces.

This type often forms in the outer part of the lungs (adenocarcinomas). Another 30 percent of cases develop in cells that line the passages of the respiratory tract (squamous cell carcinoma).

A rare varient of adenocarcinoma begins in the small air sacs in the lungs (alveoli). It’s called adenocarcinoma in situ (AIS).

This type isn’t aggressive and may not invade surrounding tissue or require urgent treatment. Faster-developing types of NSCLC include large-cell carcinoma and large-cell neuroendocrine tumors.

Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) constitutes about 15 to 20 percent of lung cancers. SCLC develops and spreads faster than NSCLC. This also makes it more likely to respond to chemotherapy. Although it’s also less chances to be cured with treatment.

In few cases, lung cancer tumors contain both NSCLC and SCLC cells.

Mesothelioma is another type of lung cancer. It’s Generally related to exposure with asbestos. Carcinoid tumors begin in hormone producing (neuroendocrine) cells.

Tumors in the lungs can grow quite large before you experience symptoms. Early symptoms appear similar to a cold or other common conditions, so most people don’t go for medical attention immediately. That’s one reason why lung cancer isn’t often diagnosed in an initial stage.

Risk factors for lung cancer

The highest risk factor for lung cancer is smoking. That includes cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Tobacco products contain various types of toxic substances.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, cigarette smokers are 15 to 30 times more pics probable to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers. The longer you smoke, the larger the chance of developing lung cancer. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk.

Breathing in secondhand smoke is also a leading risk factor. About 7300 people in United States die from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke each year, who’ve never tried smoking.

Exposure to radon, a naturally occurring gas, elevates your risk of developing lung cancer. Radon comes from the ground, entering buildings through small cracks. It’s the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. A simple home test can tell you if the level of radon in your home is dangerous.

Your risk of getting lung cancer is more if you’re exposed to toxic substances like asbestos or diesel exhaust in the workplace.

Other risk factors include:

  • family history of lung cancer
  • personal history of lung cancer, particularly if you’re a smoker
  • prior radiation therapy to the chest

Lung cancer and smoking

Not all smoking persons get lung cancer, and not everyone who has lung cancer is a smoker. But there’s no doubt that smoking is the largest risk factor, leading to 9 out of 10 lung cancers.

In addition to cigarettes, cigar and pipe smoking are also associated with lung cancer. The more you smoke and the longer you smoke, the higher your chance of getting lung cancer.

You don’t have to be a smoker to be affected with this disease.

Breathing in other people’s smoke increases the risk of lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC), secondhand smokeleads to around 7,300 lung cancer deaths every year in the United States.

Tobacco products contain more than 7,000 chemicals, and minimally 70 of them are known to cause cancer.

When you inhale tobacco smoke, this mixture of chemicals enter directly into your lungs, where it immediately starts damaging the lung.

The lungs can often repair damage at first, but the persistent effect on lung tissue becomes difficult to control. That’s when damaged cells can mutate and grow uncontrolled.

The chemicals you inhale also travel to your bloodstream and are transported all over your body, increasing the risk of other types of cancer.

Former smokers are still at risk of developing lung cancer, but quitting can reduce that risk remarkably. Within 10 years of quitting, the risk of dying from lung cancer reduced by half.

Diagnosing lung cancer

After a physical examination, your doctor will help you how to prepare for particular tests, such as:

  • Imaging tests: An abnormal mass can be seen on X-rayMRICT, and PET scans. These scans provide more detail and find smaller lesions.
  • Sputum cytology: If you produce phlegm when you cough, microscopic examination can find out if cancer cells are present.

A biopsy can help determining if tumor cells are cancerous. A tissue sample can be taken by:

  • Bronchoscopy: While under sedation, a lighted tube is passed down your throat and into your lungs which helps in closer examination.
  • Mediastinoscopy: The doctor makes an incision at the base of the neck. A lighted instrument is inserted though this incision and surgical tools are used to take samples from lymph nodes. It’s often performed in a hospital by using general anesthesia.
  • Needle: Using imaging tests as a guide, a needle is inserted through the chest wall and into the doubted lung tissue. Needle biopsy can also be used to test lymph nodes.

Tissue samples are sent to a pathologist for its assessment. If the result is positive for cancer, further testing, such as a bone scan, can be helpful for determining if cancer has spread and to help with staging.

For this test, you’ll be injected with a radioactive chemical. Abnormal parts of bone will then be highlighted on the images. MRI, CT, and PET scan are also helpful for staging.

Stages of lung cancer

Cancer stages tell how far the cancer has spread and help conduct treatment.

The chance of successful or curative treatment is much bigger when lung cancer is diagnosed and treated in the initial stages, before it invades other areas. Because lung cancer doesn’t cause clear symptoms in the earlier stages, diagnosis usually comes after it has spread.

Non-small cell lung cancer is grouped into four main stages:

  • Stage 1: Cancer is present in the lung, but it has not spread outside the lung.
  • Stage 2: Cancer is present in the lung and nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: Cancer is found in the lung and lymph nodes in the middle of the chest.
  • Stage 3A: Cancer is found in lymph nodes, but only on the same side of the chest where cancer first started developing
  • Stage 3B: Cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest or to lymph nodes above the collarbone.
  • Stage 4: Cancer has spread to both lungs, into the area surrounding the lungs, or to distant organs.

Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) is decided into two main stages. In the limited stage, cancer is present in only one lung or nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest.

The extensive stage means cancer has spread:

  • all-over in the one lung
  • to the another lung
  • to lymph nodes on the opposite side
  • to fluid around the lung
  • to bone marrow
  • to distant organs

At the time of diagnosis, 2 out of 3 people with SCLC are already in the advanced stage.

Treatment for lung cancer

It’s often a nice thought to look for a second opinion before starting a treatment. Your doctor may be able to help make that happen. If you’re diagnosed with lung cancer, your care will probably be handled by a team of doctors who may include:

  • a surgeon who is the chest and lungs specialist(thoracic surgeon)
  • a lung specialist (pulmonologist)
  • a medical oncologist
  • a radiation oncologist

Discuss all your treatment options before making any decision. Your doctors will coordinate care and keep each other informed.

Treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) can differ in all individuals. Much depends on particular details of your health.

Stage 1 NSCLC: Surgery to remove a part of the lung may be all you need. Chemotherapy may also be suggested, particularly if you have high risk of repetition.

Stage 2 NSCLC: You may need surgery to remove part or all of your lung. Chemotherapy is often suggested.

Stage 3 NSCLC: You may need a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy.

Stage 4 NSCLC is especially difficult to cure. Treatment options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.

Options for small cell-lung cancer (NSCLC) also include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In majority of cases, the cancer will be too advanced for surgery.

Clinical trials give access to promising new treatments. Talk to your doctor if you’re suitable for a clinical trial.

Some people with advanced lung cancer decide not to follow further treatment. You can still choose palliative care treatments, which are targetted on treating the symptoms of cancer rather than the cancer itself.

Home remedies for lung cancer symptoms

Home remedies and homeopathic remedies won’t cure cancer. But certain home remedies may help ease some of the symptoms related to lung cancer and side effects of treatment.

Talk to your doctor if you should take dietary supplements and if so, which ones. Some herbs, plant extracts, and other home remedies can impade the treatment and can be dangerous for your health. Make sure to discuss all complementary therapies with your doctor to ensure about their safety for you.

Options may include:

  • Massage: With a qualified therapist, massage can help ease pain and anxiety. Some massage therapists are trained to work with people having cancer.
  • Acupuncture: When performed by a trained practitioner, acupuncture may help relieve pain, nausea, and vomiting. But it’s not safe if you have decreased blood counts or take blood thinners.
  • Meditation: Relaxation and reflection can limit stress and improve overall quality of life in cancer patients.
  • Hypnosis: Helps you relax and may relieve nausea, pain, and anxiety.
  • Yoga: Combining breathing techniques, meditation, and stretching, yoga can help relax your mood, improve sleep and overall health.

Some people with cancer turn to cannabis oil. It can be infused into cooking oil to spurt in your mouth or mix with food. Or the vapours can be inhaled. This may ease nausea and vomiting and improve appetite. Human studies are insufficient and laws for use of cannabis oil differ from state to state.

Lung cancer and life expectancy

Once cancer enters the lymph nodes and bloodstream, it can spread anywhere in the body. The interpretation is better when treatment starts before cancer spreads outside the lungs.

Other factors include age, overall health, and how well you respond to treatment. Because early symptoms can be easily ignored, lung cancer is often diagnosed in advanced stages.

Survival rates and other statistics give a broad image of what to expect. However,there are remarkable individual differences. Your doctor is in the best position to discuss your viewpoint.

Current survival statistics don’t explain the whole scenerio. In recent years, new treatments have been approved for stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Some people are surviving much longer than earlier seen with older treatments.

The following are the estimated five-year survival rates for NSCLC by SEER stage:

  • Localized: 60 percent
  • Regional: 33 percent
  • Distant: 6 percent
  • All SEER stages: 23 percent

Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) is very hostile. For limited stage SCLC, the five-year survival rate is 14 percent. Median survival is 16 to 24 months. Median survival for extensive stage SCLC is six to 12 months.

Long-term disease-free survival is very few. Without any treatment, median survival from diagnosis of SCLC is only two to four months.

The relative five-year survival rate for mesothelioma which is a type of cancer caused by exposure of asbestos, is 5 to 10 percent.

Facts and statistics about lung cancer

Lung cancer is the most common cancer all over the world. According to the American Lung Association, there were around 2.1 million new cases in 2018, as well as 1.8 million deaths from lung cancer.

The most common type is non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), considering for 80 to 85 percent of all cases, according to the Lung Cancer Alliance.

Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) accounts around 15 to 20 percent of lung cancers. At the time of diagnosis, 2 out of 3 people with SCLC are already in the advanced or extensive stage.

Anyone can get lung cancer, but smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke is associated with almost 90 percent of lung cancer cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smokers have 15 to 30 times more risks to get lung cancer than nonsmokers.

In the United States, every year around 7,300 people who never smoked die from lung cancer which is caused by secondhand smoke.

Former smokers are still at risk of getting lung cancer, but quitting can noticiably reduce that risk. Within 10 years of quitting, the risk of dying from lung cancer drops by half.

Tobacco products contain more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 70 are known carcinogens(cancer causing agents).

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon accounts for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States. Around 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.

Black people have the higher risk of getting and dying from lung cancer than other racial and ethnic groups.

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