Tuesday, 25 October 2016

What is Lung Cancer?

What is Lung Cancer?

A pair of lungs is a triangular, spongy organ located inside the chest cavity. Along with nose, mouth, trachea and bronchus, it forms the respiratory system. Its main responsibility is to supply oxygen to the blood and exhale the carbon dioxide in return. Lung cancer is an unusual and uncontrolled growth of lung cells. These cells do not develop into normal tissues. These abnormal cells divide very fast and develop into tumours, which start affecting the lung functioning. Lung cancer is the cancer of the respiratory system. It can affect one or both the lungs.

Lungs cancer represents 6.9% of all new cancer cases reported in India.  Of all cancer-related deaths, 9.3% of the people die due to lung cancer in India. Men are at a greater risk than women.


It is important to understand the point where cancer has started.

•             Primary Lung Cancer: When Cancer originates from the lung.

•             Secondary Lung Cancer: When Cancer has spread up to the lungs from some other part of the body.

Lung cancer broadly is divided into two main categories.

• Small cell lung cancer (SCLC): 10-15% of lung cancer patients suffer from small cell lung cancer. Almost all patients suffering from SCLC are found to be smoke. These cells divide very rapidly and spread to other body parts.

• Non-Small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): Three subtypes of NSCLC are the most common type of lung cancer. These are named after the type of cells found in the cancerous cells.

• Adenocarcinoma: it is the cancer of the outer part of the lungs. Most of the lung cancer cases are adenocarcinoma, affecting smokers, non-smokers and women alike. It has a tendency to spread to the areas surrounding the lungs and develop at more than one place. Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma is a subtype of adenocarcinoma.

• Squamous cell carcinomas: This type of lung cancer grows within the lungs, affects the airways and has a tendency to form a cavity.

• Large cell carcinomas: Although, this type of lung cancer is not seen very commonly, but it spreads very quickly.

Some other types of lung cancer are bronchial carcinoids, cancer of the tissues supporting lung, and undifferentiated non-small cell lung cancer.

Causes and risk factors


Smoking cigarettes or beedis (an Indian cigarette) is the leading cause of lung cancer.  Apart from smoking, there are other factors that put you at a high risk of getting lung cancer.
Let us discuss these causes and risk factors.

Smoking: Smoking cigarettes or beedis (Indian cigarettes) is a major cause of lung cancer. 85% of the lung cancer is because of smoking. A person who starts smoking at a young age or someone who has been smoking for several years are very likely to suffer from lung cancer. Passive smokers or second smokers are those people who are exposed to the tobacco smoke. Even passive smokers are at a risk of lung cancer. This also applies to the family members of an active smoker.

Exposure to certain gases and chemicals: Some of the gases and chemicals are found to be carcinogenic in nature. Carcinogenic means that these chemicals and gases can cause cancer when a person is exposed to them for a long duration.

Air pollution: Air pollution is a major concern for lung cancer. Inhaling polluted air may lead to lung cancer.

• Previous lung disease: Certain lung diseases can damage the lungs, which may later develop into a type of lung cancer.

Family History: Some people may suffer from lung cancer if they have a family history of lung cancer.

Previous Cancer and treatment: If you have been diagnosed and treated for other cancer, there is a risk that you might get lung cancer. Few cancer treatments increase your chance of being affected by lung cancer. Similarly, if you have smoking-related cancers such as lip, mouth, head and neck, oesophageal or cervical cancer, you are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer.

AIDS, HIV infection and autoimmune disorders: Diseases which lowers your immunity such as AIDS, HIV and other autoimmune disorders are 2 to 3 times more likely to affect your lung.

Symptoms and signs

Usually, there are no marked symptoms of lung cancer in its early stage. One may start experiencing difficulty, only after the disease has advanced to a certain level.

Some of the symptoms of lung cancer are:

•  Frequent chest infections
•  Chronic cough
•  Blood in the mucus
•  Different coloured mucus
•  Chest pain
•  Fatigue
•  Shortness of breath
•  Coughing up blood
•  Voice change
•  Neck and face swelling
•  Fever
•  Difficulty in swallowing

In the event, cancer has spread to other body parts; one might experience

• Weight loss
• Headache
• Loss of appetite
• Bleeding
• Blood clots
• Bone fractures
• Seizures, memory loss, or hampered brain functions.

The symptoms can be attributed to other medical conditions as well, therefore, it’s necessary to be aware of the symptoms and consult a doctor at the earliest.


Your doctor will do tests of mucus, blood and recommend X-rays.

For a detailed investigation, you may be asked to undergo:

• Imaging techniques: CT scans, MRI scans, and PET scan can be done to ascertain your medical condition.

• Bronchoscopy: It allows a closer and detailed view of the lungs. By inserting a thin tube with a camera at the end, the doctor can identify the exact place and can take a sample of the tissues as well.

• Endobronchial ultrasound: It’s an ultrasound done along with bronchoscopy. It determines the size of the cancerous tissues. It also helps to identify the places the tumour has spread.

• Biopsy: A sample of the tissue is taken out to do a detailed examination. The sample can be taken through the skin, keyhole surgery of the lung or neck lymph node surgery. The samples are further studied under a microscope to diagnose cancer.

Treatment and prevention


Cancer treatment is based on the present medical condition of the individual. Your doctor will advise for a combination of available treatment options. It’s important to understand the stages of the lung cancer, to get an understanding of the treatment options.

Stages of non-small cell lung cancer

 Stage I: Cancer is confined to the lungs.

•  Stage II: Cancer has spread to the surrounding lymph nodes of the infected lung.

•  Stage III a: Cancer has spread beyond the lymph node affecting the whole side of the infected lung.

•  Stage III b: Cancer has also spread to the opposite side of the infected lung.

•  Stage IV: When the lung cancer has infected other organs.
Stages of the Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC)

SCLC has two stages:

Limited stage: when cancer has affected one side, one part of the lung and its lymph nodes.

Extensive stage: when cancer spreads to the other lung and body organs.
  Depending upon the cancer stage, the doctor may opt for surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or   targeted drug treatment. Usually, a lung cancer patient is given a combination of the above available treatment to ensure that the cancerous cells are destroyed completely and do not come back in the future.


Lung cancer although being very common is preventable. Measures to protect against lung cancer include:

• Quit Smoking: it’s never too late to quit smoking. Safeguard yourself and your family from lung     cancer.

•  Eat healthy and Exercise: Eating healthy and exercising will boost up your immunity level, giving you a shield against risk factors of lung cancer.

• Avoid passive smoking: avoid inhaling the tobacco smoke of someone smoking.

• Air pollution: Avoid exposing yourself to the polluted air.

• Avoid chemicals at work: take precautions while working with chemicals and toxic gases.

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