According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 20 lakh active cases of lung cancer in India. In 2020, there were more than 13 lakh new cases. Lungs are the main respiratory organ of our body and have the function of gaseous exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Every harmful substance inhaled with the air reaches the lung and damages the balloon like structures called alveoli inside them. This predisposes the lungs to a great extent of damage on a daily basis, especially after the rise of pollution. This can cause lung cancer and start showing symptoms. Due to this, lung cancer has become one of the commonest cancers worldwide with a high mortality rate. In this article, we have discussed the symptoms and causes of lung cancer and ways of treatment and prevention.
In the initial stages, you may not see any signs and symptoms and remain completely asymptomatic but as the tumour starts to progress and affect the lung tissue, various symptoms start arising like:
- Chest pain
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Change in the voice of the person
- Shortness of breath
- Blood in sputum
- Unintentional weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Swelling in veins of face and neck
Causes and risk factors of Lung Cancer
Cigarette smoking is the main risk factor worldwide, which leads to around 80–90% of all lung cancer. Cigarette smoke has more than 7000 carcinogenic chemicals that directly damage the cells of airways and alveoli. Thus, the greater number of cigarettes consumed throughout the lifetime, the higher the risk for cancer development later in life.
Other than smoking, other risk factors are:
- Passive or secondhand smoking: In this, the person doesn’t smoke but is surrounded by people smoking and thus inhales the toxins.
- Occupational exposure to toxic substances like asbestos, chromium, etc.
- A family history of lung cancer enhances the risk of development.
- Air pollution also leads to lung cell damage and mutations that can later develop into cancer (due to an increase in the pollution level in recent times there is a significant increase in the number of cases of lung cancer too).
- Radiation exposure: This leads to permanent mutations in the DNA that may later develop into cancer.
- Radon gas exposure
There are two broad categories of lung cancer depending on the type of cell it has affected:
- Non-small cell cancer: Most cases of lung cancer are of the non-small cell type, which includes adenocarcinoma, squamous cell cancer and large cell cancer.
- Small cell cancer: This accounts for around 10-15 % of all lung cancer cases.
Lung cancer staging is as follows:
- Localised Tumor: stages 0 and 1
- Regional Tumor: stages 2 and 3
- Distant Tumor: stage 4
Diagnosis of Lung Cancer
- Chest X-ray: This helps in visualising any Tumor growth within the lungs in the form of opacity in the X-ray
- Bronchoscopy: A thin tube-like structure fitted with a camera at the end is inserted through the mouth into the airways under anaesthesia to see the inner lining and the presence of any abnormal tissue in it.
- Sputum examination: Sputum samples are taken and examined under a microscope to look for the presence of any cancer cells in it.
- Biopsy: This is the gold standard and confirmatory test for lung cancer where a sample section of abnormal tissue is cut out during bronchoscopy and is examined under a microscope. This not only confirms the presence of a tumour but also helps in staging and typing.
- CT and MRI: These create a 3-D structure of the body and tell us the exact location and amount of tissue affected by the cancerous growth
- PET-CT: It helps in visualising metastasis into distant organs
The exact treatment protocol is accessed after knowing the extent and spread of the tumour. The treatment methods opted for will include:
- Surgery: The affected cancer tissue is cut out.
- Radiotherapy: Waves carrying high energy are directed at the tumour, which destroys the rapidly diving malignant cells
- Chemotherapy: Medicines which kill the cancer cells are either given orally or intravenously.
- Targeted drug therapy: Specific medicines that target certain changes in the lung cancer cells are used.
Prevention of Lung Cancer
- Avoid smoking: Completely avoiding smoking is the best measure to prevent lung damage and cancer
- Stop smoking: If a person smokes, then quitting as soon as possible will significantly reduce the risk of cancer development later in life.
- Avoid passive exposure: assive smoking also enhances the risk of cancer development due to inhalation of toxic gases.
- Avoid exposure to carcinogenic substances: like asbestos, beryllium etc.
- A healthy diet and weight maintenance
- Keep yourself physically active
Disclaimer: Medical Science is an ever evolving field. We strive to keep this page updated. In case you notice any discrepancy in the content, please inform us at [email protected]. You can futher read our Correction Policy here. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website or it’s social media channels. Read our Full Disclaimer Here for further information.
Medical Science is an ever evolving field. We strive to keep this page updated. In case you notice any discrepancy in the content, please inform us at [email protected]. You can further read our Correction Policy here. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website or it’s social media channels. Read our Full Disclaimer Here for further information.