Lung cancer

What is a lung cancer?

    Lung cancer initiates in the lungs, the vital organs responsible for oxygen intake upon inhalation, and carbon dioxide release upon exhalation. It stands as the primary contributor to cancer-related fatalities globally.

    While smoking remains the foremost risk factor for lung cancer, non-smokers can also develop the disease. The likelihood of lung cancer escalates in tandem with the duration and volume of cigarette consumption. Nonetheless, quitting smoking, regardless of the duration, substantially diminishes the risk of lung cancer.

Types of lung cancer

    Lung cancer encompasses various types, with the two primary classifications being non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

    - Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), constituting over 80% of cases, includes common subtypes like adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Less prevalent variations such as Aden squamous carcinoma and sarcomatous carcinoma also fall under NSCLC.

  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is characterized by rapid growth and is comparatively challenging to treat. Typically detected as a small lung tumour already disseminated to other body parts, SCLC includes specific types like small cell carcinoma (also known as oat cell carcinoma) and combined small cell carcinoma.

What are the causes of lung cancer?

    The primary cause of lung cancer is smoking, responsible for the majority of cases in both active smokers and individuals exposed to second-hand smoke. However, lung cancer can also develop in non-smokers and those with minimal exposure to second-hand smoke. In such instances, the exact cause of lung cancer may not be readily identifiable.

What are the risk factors of lung cancer?

    Several factors may elevate your risk of lung cancer, some of which are modifiable, such as quitting smoking, while others are beyond your control, like family history.

    Risk factors for lung cancer comprise:

  • Smoking: The risk escalates with the number of cigarettes smoked daily and the duration of smoking. Nonetheless, quitting smoking at any point can notably diminish the likelihood of developing lung cancer.
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke: Even non-smokers face an increased risk when exposed to second-hand smoke.
  • Previous radiation therapy: Prior chest radiation therapy for another cancer type heightens the risk of lung cancer.

    - Exposure to radon gas: Radon, a byproduct of uranium breakdown, can accumulate to hazardous levels indoors, including in homes.

  • Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens: Occupational exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, and nickel, known carcinogens, heightens the risk, especially in smokers.
  • Family history of lung cancer: Individuals with a family member (parent, sibling, or child) diagnosed with lung cancer face an elevated risk of the disease.

How smoking causes lung cancer?

    Physicians attribute smoking as the primary cause of lung cancer due to its detrimental effects on the lung cell lining. Upon inhaling cigarette smoke, laden with cancer-causing agents (carcinogens), alterations in lung tissue commence almost instantly.

    Initially, your body endeavours to repair this harm. However, with each subsequent exposure, the normal lung lining cells endure escalating damage. Eventually, this damage prompts abnormal cell behaviour, culminating in the potential development of cancer over time.

Symptoms of Lung cancer

    In its initial stages, lung cancer often manifests no noticeable signs or symptoms. Typically, indications of lung cancer become apparent as the disease progresses to advanced stages.

    These signs and symptoms may include:

  • A persistent, unrelenting cough
  • Coughing up blood, even if it's a small amount
  • Breathlessness or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bone pain
  • Headaches

What are the complications of lung cancer?

    Lung cancer can lead to various complications, including:

    1. Shortness of breath: As lung cancer progresses and blocks the major airways or leads to fluid accumulation around the lungs, it can cause difficulty in breathing. This can affect the lung's ability to fully expand during inhalation.

    2. Coughing up blood: Lung cancer can result in bleeding within the airway, leading to the coughing up of blood (haemoptysis). In severe cases, bleeding may become excessive, but treatments are available to manage and control it.

    3. Pain: Advanced lung cancer that spreads to surrounding tissues or distant areas, such as bones, can cause pain. Inform your doctor if you experience any discomfort, as there are various pain management treatments available.

    4. Pleural effusion: Lung cancer may cause fluid accumulation in the chest cavity's surrounding space, known as pleural effusion. This can contribute to shortness of breath. Treatments are accessible to drain the fluid and reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

    5. Metastasis: Lung cancer commonly metastasizes to other parts of the body, such as the brain and bones. Metastatic cancer can produce a range of symptoms, including pain, nausea, and headaches, depending on the affected organ. While metastatic lung cancer is generally incurable, treatments are available to alleviate symptoms and extend survival.

When to see a doctor?

    Schedule a consultation with your doctor if you experience persistent signs or symptoms that concern you.

    For individuals who smoke and have encountered challenges in quitting, it's essential to seek medical guidance. Your doctor can provide tailored strategies for smoking cessation, including counselling, medications, and nicotine replacement therapies.

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