The lungs are the respiratory organs that are situated in the thorax of the ribcage and consist of a thin moist membrane that increases its surface area. Therefore, the exchange of oxygen as well as carbon dioxide takes place on one side with air on the other side of the membrane. Lungs are ventilated by respiratory movements using sacs attached to the bronchus via various bronchioles. Lung cancer is an illness that affects the lungs by uncontrolled cell growth that may spread beyond the lung in metastasis form to other body areas. The three main sub-types include: squamous cell lung carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large-cell lung carcinoma, while small-cell lung carcinoma is less common. These cancers themselves metastasize to the adrenal glands, liver, brain, and bones.
Globally, this cancer is the most common type of death due to cancer in the United States and has caused 1.4 million deaths as of 2004. It is the third most commonly occurring cancer as the highest cancer related mortality in the United States with breast and prostate occurring more frequently. Less that 15% of these cancers are caught in the early stages, which make fighting against the disease more difficult.
Symptoms of lung cancer include:
- Shortness of breath including wheezing and a hoarse voice
- Chest pain or pain in the abdomen
- Chronic coughing, coughing up blood, or change in coughing pattern
- Weight loss, fatigue, and loss of appetite as well as difficulty swallowing
In the United States, smoking accounts for 87% of cancer cases, with 90% in men and 85% in women. Regular smoking habits are a major factor leading to lung cancer in patients. Additionally, exposure to repetitive secondhand smoke is of equal cause to smoking as a factor towards lung cancer. However, it can be attributed to various other factors as well including: radon gas, asbestos, air pollution, and genetics.
Among the major causes of lung cancer, cigarette smoking in particular accounts for a large percentage, about 85%, of those who are affected by the disease. 20,000-30,000 people are diagnosed with this cancer each year. Surprisingly, about 10-15% of these patients have never smoked in their lives, thus, suggesting that passive secondhand smoke has highly affected their ability to get cancer.
Furthermore, the other 15% may have cancer from environmental exposures, heredity or other unknown causes. Another factor is exposure to radon gas, which is a colorless, odorless gas that comes from the breakdown of radium from uranium in the earth’s crust. Exposure to radon is the second largest attribution to lung cancer behind smoking, which accounts for 50% of increased lung cancer risk. Asbestos also accounts for a large amount of lung cancers with a synergistic affect between smoking and asbestos apparent in this disease.
Airborne pathogens from air pollution and genetics also play a role in lung cancer with a percentage of people being affected by these two factors. Studies created by the American Cancer Society suggest particulate matter as linked to lung cancer, with even a slight increase in airborne matter by 1% leading to an increase of cancer by 14%. Additional factors involve unhealthy dietary choices, which increase this cancer risk by 30%, and viruses.
The first step in lung cancer detection involves a chest radiograph, which determines an obvious mass in the lungs. However, if there is no detection in a radiograph a CT guided biopsy or bronchoscopy will provide the information needed to determine this form of cancer. Abnormal conclusions in cells suggest an increased risk in cancer. Positron emission tomography can also be used to determine whether the disease is available to be operated on or not. Radiotherapy is another method of helping those with non small-cell carcinoma that aren’t available to be operated on where a high dose of radiotherapy is given for a small period of time. Several types of chemotherapy, radiology, and palliative care dependent upon the cancer type are available for treatment options if surgery or radiotherapy is not an option.
Also, the earliest detection method possible will help to deter lung cancer, however, as suggested lung cancer is detected in later stages. The problem of not having a proven tool to detect lung cancer in high risk populations has made patient recovery difficult. A recent research study performed by The National Lung Screening Trial team was published by The New England Journal of Medicine that proved benefit of early low dose Chest CT scan screening for a specific high risk population. A multidisciplinary approach is the best way to ensure the right care for patients with several specialists in areas of the body affected by lung cancer.