Lung cancer is a plague in the United States that is responsible for the most cancer related deaths in the nation. In fact, the number of lung cancer fatalities is more than prostate, colon, ovarian, and breast cancers combined. It is a cancer that begins in the lungs, but can eventually spread to other areas of the body. Those who smoke are at the greatest risk of developing the disease, but even if you have smoked for several years it isn’t too late to quit and dodge the lung cancer bullet. The development of lung cancer increases for smokers the longer and more frequently they smoke, so those who quit can drastically reduce the likelihood that lung cancer will develop.
Signs and Symptoms
It was surprising to say the least when my doctor diagnosed me with lung disease. I hadn’t felt that anything was wrong. I expected that with such a devastating diagnosis I should at least feel sick, but my physician warned me that lung cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms within its victims. Instead, symptoms usually creep up when the disease is advanced enough to spread and cause irreversible damage. He mentioned that our catching the disease early on increased my prognosis, and had we not found it I may be experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- A strange cough that doesn’t go away
- Frequent headaches
- Pain in my bones
- Weight loss without dieting or exercise
- Difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Having blood present when coughing, even in small amounts
While none of the symptoms listed above were present in my life, I was interested in seeking medical advice regarding smoking cessation. My health insurance provider through my employer’s insurance plan requested that I make an appointment with my doctor in order to devise a strategy whereby I could quit smoking. It was during my appointment that my doctor ordered exams which later revealed lung cancer.
What Causes Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is mostly caused by smoking cigarettes and being exposed to secondhand smoke, but it is also found in individuals who have never smoked and who have not been around secondhand smoke. When lung cancer occurs in individuals who are non-smokers and who have had minimal secondhand smoke exposure its cause my always be a mystery. Certainly smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer because cigarette smoke damages the ciliated pseudostratified columnar epithelial cells that line the lungs. It happens in this way:
- Cigarette smoke is filled with carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances.
- As you inhale cigarette smoke, damage to epithelial cells occurs.
- Your body will try to repair the damaged cells at first.
- As smoking frequency increases, you cause more and more damage to these cells and your body can no longer repair them.
- Damaged cells begin to develop cancer.
Small Cell vs. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Physicians have classified lung cancer into two separate and distinct bodies, small cell and non-small cell lung cancer. The distinction can only be detected by examining a slice of lung tissue under the magnification of a powerful electron microscope. A physician would prescribe a treatment plan based on the type of lung cancer a patient has.
- Small cell lung cancer. It is the least common of the two forms of lung cancer, and is found in individuals who are heavy smokers. While it grows and spreads quite rapidly, it also responds well to chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The best prognosis is given to individuals where cancer has been detected early on.
- Non-small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer refers to several different kinds of lung cancer including squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. Usually when cancer has been discovered it is too late to cure, however, there are some treatments that can be used to slow the progression of the disease. Treatments can also help to alleviate some of the symptoms a person may feel.
There are generally four different kinds of treatment options when it comes to lung cancer. They include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and other targeted therapies. A physician would determine which treatment route to go down based on your overall health and the stage the cancer was at during its discovery and eventual treatment. Lung cancer is a serious health concern, especially because it is often discovered too late. If you experience any signs or symptoms that may lead you to believe that you have lung cancer, make an appointment with your physician.