What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of cells that starts in the lungs. Lung cancer occurs when any of the several cells in the lungs undergo an abnormal change in its genetic code. This change is called a mutation. A mutated cell multiplies to form more abnormal cells of its kind that grow to form a lump or mass. This mass then spreads (metastasizes) to other organs. Depending upon microscopic examination, lung cancers can be grouped into two main types: small-cell lung cancer and non–small cell lung cancer. Non–small cell lung cancer is more common than small-cell lung cancer, and the treatment strategies for these two types may vary.
Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States (skin cancer being the first, while prostate and breast cancer being the second most common cancer in men and women, respectively). Regardless of gender, lung cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer in the United States. They are also one of the commonest cancers in the most developing countries. The lungs are quite vulnerable to develop cancer because they are exposed to all types of pollutants and harmful substances present in the air that we breathe. Globally, lung cancers cause the highest number of deaths.
What does lung cancer feel like when it starts?
Lung cancer may not show any signs or symptoms in its early stages. Hence, it is important to get yourself screened regularly in case you have a risk factor. The symptoms usually appear when the cancer has spread. Some people, however, may develop symptoms during the early stages. The common symptoms of lung cancer may include:
- A worsening cough that does not go away
- Chest pain that is worsened during breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Hemoptysis (coughing up blood or blood-tinged or rust-colored sputum)
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing or noisy breathing
- A general feeling of being unwell
- Appetite loss
- Unintended or unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Frequent lung infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia
- Swollen lymph nodes or glands in the neck, upper chest, or armpits
In its advanced stages, the lung cancer spreads to involve other tissues and organs (metastasis) causing symptoms related to the affected site. Depending on the area where the cancer metastasizes, the symptoms vary:
- Bone: There may be bone pain such as back pain or an increased tendency for the bones to fracture.
- Brain: Symptoms may include headache, dizziness, weakness of any part of the body, seizures, and problems with balancing.
- Liver: Symptoms may include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), itchy skin, nausea, and vomiting.
Can lung cancer be cured?
Yes, when detected and treated early, it is possible to cure lung cancer. The advances in medical science and technology have led to the development of various treatment strategies for lung cancer. The cure rates depend upon how early the diagnosis was made during the course of the disease. The odds of getting cured decrease when the tumor has already metastasized by the time it was diagnosed. The treatment varies depending upon the stage of the cancer, general health of the patient, and the type of the cancer (small cell or non–small cell lung cancer). For non–small cell lung cancer, the treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments. Patients with small cell lung cancer are generally treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Targeted therapy is a novel treatment approach that uses drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells.
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