What is Lung Cancer?
In simple terms, lung cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that starts in one or both lungs, usually in the cells that line the air passages. Instead of developing into healthy lung tissue, these abnormal cells divide rapidly and form tumors which undermine the lung's ability to provide the bloodstream with oxygen.
Lung Cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, both in terms of incidence and mortality. The death rate of Lung Cancer is so high that more people die of it than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined each year.
There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). NSCLC accounts for nearly nine out of every 10 diagnoses and typically grows at a slower rate than SCLC.
What are the risk factors?
Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer and is responsible for 80%-90% of the cases. People who smoke cigarettes are said to be 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. Heavy smokers tend to be the most at-risk; however, even those who smoke few cigarettes a day and occasional smokers are at increased risk of developing lung cancer.
Heavy smoking means a smoking history of 30 pack years or more. A pack year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 30 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.
Non-smokers can also have it
Many people with lung cancer are smokers, but 10-20 % of people who develop the disease never smoked at all. Lung cancer in non-smokers can be caused by the following:
- Exposure to high levels of radon. Exposure to high levels of radon in our homes is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide and the leading cause among non-smokers. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt and can enter our homes through cracks in floors, walls, or foundations. The risk of developing lung cancer is higher in smokers exposed to radon than in non-smokers who are exposed to it.
- Second-hand smoking. The third leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers is second-hand smoke. Living and/or working with someone who smokes raises the risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30%, and even brief exposures can cause the damage that can lead to lung cancer. People who inhale second-hand smoke are exposed to the same cancer-causing agents as smokers, although in smaller amounts.
- Radiation Therapy to the Chest. Radiation therapy uses x-rays, gamma rays, or other types of radiation that may increase the risk of lung cancer. The higher the dose of radiation received, the higher the risk.
- Workplace exposure. On-the-job exposure to cancer-causing substances can increase the risk of lung cancer. These substances include asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, and some forms of silica and chromium.
- Air pollution. Studies show that living in areas with higher levels of air pollution generated from traffic, the combustion of diesel fuel, coal, and wood increases the risk of lung cancer.
- Family History (non-modifiable). Having a family history of lung cancer is a risk factor for lung cancer. People with a relative who had lung cancer may be twice as likely to have lung cancer as people who do not have a relative who had lung cancer.
- Diet. According to studies, smokers who take beta-carotene supplements have an increased risk of lung cancer.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
As with many other types of cancer, lung cancer is hard to detect in early stages. It may take years for the symptoms to manifest, and some people may feel perfectly fine early on.
The main symptoms of lung cancer that may develop as the condition progresses include:
- Coughing that gets worse or doesn't go away
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Weight loss with no known cause
- Other changes: repeated bouts of pneumonia and swollen or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) inside the chest in the area between the lungs
Many different conditions can cause the symptoms in patients who present with lung cancer. Therefore, you must see a doctor if you experience any of the symptoms especially if you know that you are at-risk.
What are the treatment options?
The treatment for lung cancer depends on the type and how far it has spread. People with non-small cell lung cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments. People with small cell lung cancer are usually treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
- Surgery physically removes the cancer tumor and any lymph nodes that may contain cancerous cells.
- Radiation therapy (also sometimes referred to as radiotherapy, x-ray therapy, or irradiation) uses X-rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing or multiplying.
- Chemotherapy drugs are used to kill cancer cells. Unlike surgery and radiation, which are used to treat local disease, chemotherapy is usually systemic; it goes through the whole body and therefore, should affect cancer cells anywhere they may be.
- Targeted therapy uses drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines administered intravenously.
How to prevent lung cancer?
The most important thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is not to smoke cigarettes or to quit if you do. You must also avoid second-hand smoke by not hanging out in or near smoking areas, telling the people you know not to smoke, and/or stepping away when they still do.
If you are a 55-year old (or older) individual who is currently a smoker or were a smoker who quitted within the past 15 years, it is also recommended that you undergo lung cancer screening procedures to find any abnormality in the lungs which may lead to cancer. Early detection could save your life.
Other preventive measures include eating a healthy diet, exercising, and avoiding other modifiable risk factors mentioned above.
Afraid that is too late for you to quit smoking?
It is never too late to quit smoking. If you quit smoking before the age of 30, you can lower your lung cancer risk to nearly that of someone who has never smoked. Meanwhile, quitting by age 50 reduces your risk of developing the disease by half.
If you've already been diagnosed with cancer or another significant health problem, quitting smoking often makes it more likely that the treatment will be successful and that you'll experience fewer side effects.
Quitting smoking won't be easy for sure. It will take a lot of time and planning, but you don't have to stop smoking in one day. Start gradually, and seek support.
We at Trinity really hope that this article has provided you some learnings about Lung Cancer as this really affects not just the personal life of an individual but also his/her career, and as a trustworthy partner of our clients, it is also our objective to maintain the wellness of their employees. This is why we have incorporated Wellness Solutions in the service that we provide to our Employee Benefits clients.
• https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer • https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/ • https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html • http://www.philcancer.org.ph/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Whar-is-it-Lung-Cancer-Jul-PCS.pdf-->