The early symptoms of lung cancer are one of the most important things that those who are at risk for the disease can do. Lung cancer is the most treatable when it is discovered early, and the only way to discover it early enough is to recognize and report the early symptoms of lung cancer. If you are noticing a combination of these lung cancer symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor.
One of the early symptoms of lung cancer is a nagging cough that simply will not get better. Often the cough worsens with time and is accompanied by chronic chest pain. Coughing up blood is another of the many early symptoms of lung cancer. In fact, coughing up blood is one of the biggest symptoms that sends lung cancer patients to their doctors. Recurring bronchitis or pneumonia sometimes indicates that the disease is present. Fatigue and shortness of breath are more symptoms to watch out for if you suspect the disease.
Cancers form when certain cells in the body grow and multiply in an uncontrolled fashion. When such uncontrolled growth affects lung tissues, a lung cancer forms. Lung cancer is classified into two main types- small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. An estimated 80 percent of lung cancer patients have non-small cell lung cancer.
Smoking or inhaling second hand smoke, environmental exposures such as asbestos and radon gas, and a family history of lung cancer increase the risk of an individual getting lung cancer. However, some lung cancers arise in the absence of these risk factors. Factors that may protect people from lung cancer are not smoking, avoiding second hand smoke, a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruit, and limiting exposure to potential carcinogens in the environment such as radon.
Lung Cancer Stages
Cancers are staged depending on how far they have spread. Staging a cancer correctly is essential to select the most appropriate treatment option. A number of diagnostic tests, such as CT scans, MRIs, bronchoscopy, blood tests, bone scans, and biopsies are used to find out how far the cancer has spread.
Non-small cell lung cancers, which account for about 80 percent of lung cancers, are staged using the Roman numerals 0 through IV. If a cancer is too small to be detected, it is called an occult or hidden cancer and not assigned any numeral. Stage 0 cancer, or carcinoma in situ, is limited to the lung and only involves a few layers of cells. Stage I cancer is still limited to the lung, with an area of normal tissue surrounding it. Stage I cancers are further divided into Stage IA and Stage IB, depending on the size of the tumor. In stage II cancer, the cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes, the chest wall, the diaphragm, or to the tissues lining the lung (pleura) and the heart (pericardium). In stage III cancer, lymph nodes in the central chest or on the other side of the body from the original tumor are involved.
Lung Cancer Treatment
The most commonly used treatments for lung cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The exact treatment a lung cancer patient receives will depend on several factors. These include the type of cancer, the stage or extent to which it has spread at the time of diagnosis, and the overall health of the patient.
Non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for about 80 percent of lung cancer cases, is treated depending on its stage at diagnosis. Lung surgery is the mainstay of treatment for the early stages of lung cancer. Cancerous tissue, along with a margin of healthy tissue, is removed. Patients who are unable to have surgery may be treated with radiotherapy.
While cure rates for early lung cancer are good, it is rarely detected in its early stages. As non-small cell cancer spreads within the chest, it is treated with some combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Once cancer has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy and radiotherapy replace surgery as the main treatment options. A number of drugs are available, and many more are being tested in clinical trials. Radiotherapy is palliative, and while it may ease symptoms such as pain and cough, it will not stop cancer growth. If the cancer obstructs a major airway, using a laser, freezing the tumor or keeping the airway open with a stent or tube may remove the obstruction.