Your guide to lung cancer – a comprehensive overview

Your guide to lung cancer – a comprehensive overview

There are two types of lung cancer primarily: small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) and non-small cell carcinoma (NSCLC). Known to be the second most common type of cancer, this disease starts in the lungs and spreads to other organs. When the cells in the lungs grow and divide uncontrollably, it leads to tumor formation, which then affects the organ’s functioning. Read on to know more about this condition so that you can be aware of its signs and symptoms and avail medical attention on time.

Disease overview
Lung carcinoma can start with mild symptoms like coughing. But as cancer progresses, these symptoms may become more severe. You may face problems like recurring chest pain, loss of appetite, etc. Smoking can greatly increase the risk of developing this disease.

Nearly 25% of all cancer-related deaths are caused due to severe cases of lung carcinoma. The real problem with the fatality rate is that this type of cancer only starts showing prominent symptoms when the condition has reached an advanced stage. This is when the treatment becomes difficult, leading to a drop in the survival rate.

When the cancerous cells appear round and small, it is identified as small cell cancer. This type of cancer tends to grow aggressively. On the other hand, the cells appear comparatively larger in non-small cell cancer. It can be further classified into two subtypes: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.

Symptoms

  • Cough
    Initially, it might start out like any other allergy-induced cough. But when it persists beyond two weeks, it should be seen as a warning sign. In this case, the cough becomes severe, and the frequency increases with every passing day. Unexplained chronic cough is one of the most common symptoms.
  • Chest infections
    Recurring chest infection is also a symptom of lung cancer. People can experience mild to severe discomfort in this case, which may be accompanied by a sharp pain in the chest, particularly when you laugh or cough. When you experience these problems, treat it as a warning sign of lung cancer.
  • Changes in the color of sputum
    Spitting up blood while coughing is the tell-tale sign of lung cancer. Even mild traces of blood should not be taken lightly. The sputum could be yellow or green when chest infections get worse. Rust-colored sputum is also common in the early stages.
  • Change in voice
    Voice changes similar to those occurring during throat infections are common. The voice could become hoarse or raspy in most cases. This occurs when the tumor has progressed so much that it affects the healthy vibration of vocal cords. Like a cough, this symptom also doesn’t go away easily in cancer patients.
  • Breathing difficulties
    Difficulties in breathing often start as the tumor grows and reaches the airways. This can trigger shortness of breath. It could also come from the accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
  • Respiratory illnesses
    Bronchitis and pneumonia are among the seasonal illnesses that occur with severity in people who develop lung cancer. When these illnesses keep coming back even after effective treatment, it could indicate the possibility of cancerous growth in the lungs. You might also notice other accompanying symptoms like fever and shortness of breath which are characteristics of these respiratory diseases.
  • Weight loss
    Another symptom that many people may miss is an unexplained weight loss. This would start as a loss of appetite, which is then followed by tiredness as the body doesn’t get enough calories each day. With exhaustion, there is also a reduction in body weight. This happens because the uncontrolled growth of the tumor is using too much of your energy.

Causes

  • Cigarette smoking

Nearly 80% of all the lung cancer cases caused in both men and women are due to smoking. An increase in the frequency of smoking can increase the risk of the disease. All types of tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes can have similar effects. Both smokers and passive smokers fall into the cancer-risk category. SCLC is mostly found in smokers. The habit of smoking cannabis where the smoke is retained for a long duration in the lungs can also increase the risk in several cases.

  • Genetic factors

Research suggests that lung cancer can also be attributed to inherited genetic mutations. According to the American Cancer Society, genetic mutations can put a person at an increased risk of developing the disease. It can even lower one’s ability to eliminate cancer-causing chemicals from the body. A family history of lung cancer should not be ignored. Some of the genetic modifications could also be triggered due to environmental factors and adverse health conditions.

  • Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals

Traces of radon can be found in rocks and it forms as a result of uranium disintegration. Construction sites making use of soil as a building material are likely to contain suspended radon gas in small amounts. Continuous exposure to this gas can cause lung carcinoma. The other gases that people are likely to be exposed to in their workplace are arsenic, silica, asbestos, and cadmium, among others. Prolonged exposures and observance of inefficient workplace safety in such cases can lead to an increased risk of developing the disease. Even continued exposure to pollutants like nitrogen oxide can cause cancer.

Treatment options
Time-tested practices for treating lung carcinoma include the use of radiation and medication to curb cancerous growth and alleviate the side effects. Here are some of the most commonly prescribed treatment options for lung cancer patients.

  • Surgical removal of tumors

When the tumor is quite big, removing it surgically can prevent cancer growth from exerting excess pressure on the lungs or the airways. Surgeries for the treatment of cancer depend on its stage and the overall health of the patient. Once the tumor is evaluated, wedge resection or segmental resection, lobectomy, or pneumectomy procedures are planned as required. Infected lymph nodes might also be removed, depending on how much the tumor growth has progressed. This method is particularly effective when the infection has not started spreading beyond the lungs.

  • Radiation

This is another method that targets the cancer cells directly. The use of high energy radiations to burn and destroy the cancer cells is called radiation therapy. It is often chosen as a combination procedure, which is performed along with surgery. If cancer has already grown beyond the lungs, the use of radiation might be merely to target the associated symptoms.

  • Chemotherapy

Intravenous or oral intake of medications that destroy the cancer cells is the basis of chemotherapy. There is an array of medications combined in the treatment, depending on the patient’s health. In cases, where the tumor size is large, chemotherapy is used to reduce it and therefore improve the efficiency of a surgical procedure.

  • Targeted therapy

When the cancerous growth is triggered due to genetic mutations, targeted medications are used to tackle the genetic abnormalities. There are specific options that work on preventing the metastasis of cancer cells. These could be prescribed for consumption like regular medication or through intravenous injection.

Along with the other treatment procedures, immunotherapy is often chosen as a supplementary procedure. This treatment focuses on restoring immunity in patients. It is particularly helpful if the cancer growth has spread to the lymph nodes. Such progress can result in immunity-related problems. With a weakened immune system, the patient might be more susceptible to other secondary infections, which can worsen their overall health. To improve one’s health and make other treatment options more effective, immunotherapy is often combined with one or more of the above treatment procedures.

Natural remedies
There are not many natural treatment options that are known to be effective for patients with lung cancer. However, if cancer is diagnosed at a very early stage, there are some herbal supplements and alternative methods that can help to some extent. For all the symptoms associated with lung carcinoma, you can come up with many effective natural remedies. Steam inhalation, for example, can help clear the airway or reduce the pressure in the lung area. It can also be helpful in clearing sputum and preventing breathing troubles. Herbs can also be used to soothe the throat in case of a persistent cough. Massaging the neck, shoulder, and back areas can help relieve chest pain caused due to lung carcinoma. While natural remedies can work for the symptoms, it is better to stick with the effective treatment plans prescribed by your doctor for treating the condition successfully.

Foods you need to eat
Cancer management becomes easier with a few dietary and lifestyle changes. Giving up on tobacco and cigarettes goes without a saying. Some patients might even find counseling to be useful to help them quit smoking without showing extreme withdrawal symptoms. It is particularly useful for chronic smokers.

Increasing physical activity levels can also have a positive influence on one’s health. A healthy diet combined with physical exercises can improve the patient’s quality of life. It also has a noticeable improvement in the efficiency of cancer treatments. Some food items when introduced in the regular diet can have a significant effect on the respiratory health of lung cancer patients.

  • Turmeric

Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. Adding the spice to food items or even drinking turmeric tea can help in reducing inflammation, and therefore, alleviation of pressure in the chest caused due to the tumor. This is an effective ingredient that can be added to the diet before opting for treatments. In fact, people who fall in the high-risk category might benefit by including this root ingredient in their diet.

  • Whole grains for energy

Maintaining energy levels is important for patients with lung cancer. As the body burns more calories with the vigorous growth of cancer cells, exhaustion is a common symptom. To tackle tiredness and to stay active, you need to include whole grains in your daily diet. It is crucial in helping maintain energy levels. Whole wheat bread is also a healthy replacement for normal white bread. You can also go for whole-grain pasta that can make you feel full and keep up your energy levels. Plus, oatmeal in the morning can be a good breakfast choice for lung cancer patients to get their daily dose of healthy carbs.

  • Fruits and vegetables

The best idea for lung cancer patients is to add all types of fruits and vegetables to their diet. Including healthy portions of these ingredients, every day would ensure that your body can continue to replenish the antioxidant levels. It is all the more critical for high-risk patients to adopt a well-balanced diet.

  • Protein

Eggs, soy, nuts, and other protein-packed ingredients are essential for the body to be able to repair and regrow healthy cells. People who notice a weakened immunity after the onset of cancer might also notice betterment in their health with the improvement in protein intake. Lean protein in meat and dairy products are healthy choices.

  • Fat intake
    For all types of cancer, including lung cancer, cutting down saturated fats and including healthy fats can be quite useful. There are various sources of monounsaturated fats like seeds, nuts, and even olive oil that one can opt for.

While including such healthy additions to your diet is important, you also need to stay hydrated. Increasing your everyday water intake is crucial, especially after the cancer treatments have started. Some types of medications and radiation therapy can lead to dehydration in some patients. Besides this, you need to focus on consuming frequent but smaller meals during the day. Healthy body weight has a strong role to play in the effectiveness of all types of cancer treatments. Apart from the regular changes, some doctors might prescribe supplements based on the individual needs of the patient.

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