Lung cancer – Symptoms, causes, and treatments

Lung cancer – Symptoms, causes, and treatments
Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer in both men and women in the country. It occurs when the cells in the lungs mutate and multiply, forming a tumor that tries to immobilize the lung function. Early diagnosis of this condition can help a person adopt the most effective treatment. However, identifying lung cancer during the initial stages can be extremely tricky as there might be no symptoms or the symptoms might mimic those of a respiratory infection. In this article, we will discuss some common symptoms, stages, and causes of the disease, along with prevention and treatment.

Signs and symptoms
As mentioned earlier, the signs and symptoms of lung cancer don’t manifest until the later stages. However, there are some subtle ones that one might notice in the initial stages of the condition:

  • Wheezing
  • Headaches
  • Hoarse voice
  • Appetite loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • A persistent cough that might get worse
  • Frequent respiratory infections like bronchitis or pneumonia

As the condition progresses, these symptoms might exacerbate and be accompanied by blood in cough, bone pain, and lumps in the lymph nodes.

The stages of this condition help doctors understand how far the cancerous cells have spread and the severity of the condition. Non-small cell lung cancer is classified into the following four stages:

  • Stage 1
    At this stage, cancer is found in the lung, but it has not spread outside.
  • Stage 2
    Cancer is detected in the lung as well as the nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3
    Apart from the lung and lymph nodes, cancer has spread to the middle area of the chest.
  • Stage 3A
    Cancer is discovered in the lymph nodes of the one side of the chest where it first started.
  • Stage 3B
    Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest or to those located above the collarbone.
  • Stage 4
    At this stage, the disease has spread to both lungs, surrounding areas, or to distant organs.

On the other hand, small-cell lung cancer has two key stages. In the limited stage, cancer is restricted to only one lung or the neighboring lymph nodes located on the same side of the chest.

The extensive stage implies that the cancer has metastasized:

  • To the same lung
  • To the other lung
  • To the fluid around the lung
  • To the lymph nodes on the opposite side
  • To the bone marrow
  • To the distant organs

The leading cause of lung cancer is smoking in both smokers and individuals exposed to secondhand smoke. However, this condition also affects people who have never smoked or aren’t frequently exposed to secondhand smoking. In such cases, it is difficult to say what causes this condition.

Apart from smoking, the following factors amplify the risk of lung cancer:

  • Exposure to asbestos and other forms of carcinogens
    Workplace exposure to asbestos and other forms of harmful substances like arsenic, chromium, and nickel can cause cancer or amplify one’s risk of developing cancer if they are already a smoker.
  • Exposure to radon gas
    Radon is naturally produced when uranium in soil, rock, and water breaks down, ultimately becoming a part of the air we breathe. High levels of radon in the air can accumulate anywhere, including at home.
  • Family history
    Individuals having a family history of lung cancer have a higher risk of developing this disease.

There is no tried and tested solution to prevent this condition, but the following measures can help lower the risk of this disease considerably:

  • No smoking
    As discussed earlier, smoking is one of the prominent causes of lung cancer. Avoiding or quitting this habit is the best way to steer clear of any possible health risks. Likewise, non-smokers should try and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Radon testing at home
    It is essential to get the radon levels at home examined, especially if one lives in an area where radon levels are known to be problematic. Several measures can be taken to improve air quality at home.
  • Precautions at work
    If one works in a toxic environment, they should always follow safety directives like wearing a face mask. In addition, they should seek advice from their doctor to protect themselves from any health ailments.
  • Diet and exercise
    Regular physical activity is important, and so is the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, as they are the best sources of vitamins and minerals that help strengthen one’s immune system.

Diagnosis, treatment, and life expectancy
To diagnose lung cancer, doctors employ tests like the following:

  • Imaging tests like X-rays
  • Biopsy (tissue sample)
  • Sputum cytology, wherein the sputum is scrutinized for cancer cells
  • Staging tests like CT, MRI, bone scans, and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) gauge if the cancer has metastasized, and they are used when it has been diagnosed

The doctor will finalize a cancer treatment plan based on factors like overall health, the type and stage of lung cancer, and one’s personal choices:

  • Surgery
    Depending on how far the cancer has spread, the surgeon will remove the tumor, along with some of the surrounding healthy tissue. In some cases, only a part of the lung will be removed, while the entire lung has to be taken out at other times.
  • Radiation therapy
    In this treatment, high-powered energy beams are used to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy might be used before or after surgery and is typically combined with chemotherapy. If surgery isn’t viable, a combination of radiation and chemotherapy is used as the primary treatment. In advanced stages, the use of radiation therapy might help alleviate painful symptoms.
  • Chemotherapy
    One or more chemotherapy medications might be given orally or administered intravenously over a period of weeks or months to kill the remaining cancer cells after surgery or to shrink the tumor before surgery.
  • Radiosurgery
    An intense radiation treatment, radiosurgery involves numerous beams of radiation from multiple angles to target the cancer. Typically, it is used for people with small lung cancers who can’t opt for surgery. It might also be used to treat cancer that has spread to other organs.
  • Targeted drug therapy
    This treatment concentrates on certain anomalies of the cancer cells. By inhibiting these anomalies, targeted drug therapy causes the rogue cells to die. Some targeted therapies only work on cancer cells with specific genetic mutations.
  • Immunotherapy
    Cancer cells trick the immune system, making it unable to see or attack them. Immunotherapy intervenes to stop this process and helps make the immune system more proactive against cancer.

The life expectancy of a lung cancer patient varies widely based on parameters like age, overall health, the stage and type of cancer, responsiveness to the treatment plan, and complications.

Best foods to have for lung cancer
Here is a list of foods that could possibly help fight lung cancer and could also assuage the effects of exhausting treatments like chemotherapy:

  • High-protein foods like lean meats, beans, eggs, and dairy items
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Carrots
  • Pears
  • Berries
  • Capers
  • Green tea
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric

One must have multiple but small meals throughout the day to keep their energy levels high and dodge nausea. Similarly, one should drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, which could be triggered due to the overwhelming nature of the treatments.