Medical & Legal Information on Lung Cancer: Causes & Treatment Options
• Lung Cancer Overview
• Lung Cancer Classifications
• The Causes of Lung Cancer
• Lung Cancer Symptoms
• Treating Lung Cancer
Lung Cancer Overview
Lung Cancer develops because abnormal (cancerous) cells grow out of control in one or both lungs. The disease often goes undiagnosed until it reaches in the advanced stages because many of the symptoms including a nagging cough or lack of energy might be associated with other health issues. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, and other smoking materials continue to be the greatest risk factor for developing the disease. However, there are other factors including air pollution, secondary smoke, and exposure to radon.
Unlike healthy lung tissue that grows and reproduces (divides) before dying, cancerous lung tissue does not die but grows and divides rapidly, producing excessive amounts of cancer cells to form a tumor. However, not all tumors are malignant (cancerous). These benign tumors remain isolated in a single location and do not spread like malignant tumors.
Unfortunately, malignant tumors have the capacity to metastasize (spread) to other areas of the body through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. Once cancer has spread to other areas, it is significantly more difficult to treat.
Not every type of cancer in the lungs originated in the lungs like primary lung cancer. The secondary lung cancers can metastasize from other areas and organs in the body and eventually spread into the lungs. These malignant tumor growths require a different type of treatment based on their cancer type.
Statistics maintained and released by the National Cancer Institute reveal that there were more than 220,000 new diagnoses of lung cancer in 2015 and more than 158,000 deaths related to lung cancer in the U.S. that year. The reach of this horrific disease is worldwide and statistics released by WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that more than 7.5 million individuals worldwide die every year from cancer of which 1.37 million succumbed to lung cancer, making it the number one cancer killer of all humans.
Lung Cancer Classifications
Doctors, scientists, and researchers classify lung cancer as one of two main types as determined by their microscopic appearance. The classifications include non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) which involves four out of five lung cancers and small cell lung cancer. Additionally, there are further classifications for non-small cell lung cancer that include:
- Epidermal Carcinoma – This most common type of lung cancer initially develops in the lining of bronchial tubes, affecting mostly men.
- Large Cell Undifferentiated Carcinoma – This type of rapidly progressing cancer forms on the lungs outer edges and surface.
- Adenocarcinoma – This type affects mostly women and non-smokers forming cancerous cells in the lungs’ mucus-producing glands.
- Bronchioalveolar Carcinoma – This rare type of cancer is a subclass of adenocarcinoma that forms around air sacs in the lungs.
Most small cell lung cancers develop because of smoking. The small cells are known to reproduce rapidly, forming large tumors that spread and invade other areas of the body.
The Causes of Lung Cancer
Cancerous cells are distinctly different than normal healthy cells in that they grow uncontrollably, divide, and never die. Their failure to die after reproducing once allows the mass of built up abnormal cells to create a cancerous tumor. This abnormality is the result of altered gene mutations inside the cells’ DNA caused by some type of damage. While there are different known causes of lung cancer, most forms of the disease occur by inhaling carcinogenic substances or genetic predispositions.
- Carcinogens – DNA damaged by carcinogens is known to promote or aid the growth of cancer. Exposure to the sun, arsenic, x-rays, gamma rays, and automobile exhaust fumes along with tobacco use assist in the formation of free radicals that attempt to steal electrons from molecules that build the body. The damage to cells caused by free radicals affects the tissues ability to function and divide like healthy cells.
Nearly 9 out of every 10 cases of lung cancer are related to carcinogen inhalation and smoke associated with tobacco products. Even secondhand exposure to smoke can cause significant damage to healthy cells and begin the process of abnormal cell growth.
- Genetic Predisposition – Cancer can be caused by a genetic predisposition where the individual inherits the mutated gene from parents and ancestors. Many times, the individual inherits this genetic mutation at birth and does not develop the symptoms until later in life. Many genetic predispositions are believed to be the direct cause of the development of lung cancer or have the increased potential of developing the disease when combined with exposure to dangerous environmental elements.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
The symptoms of lung cancer vary between individuals and are often associated with where the disease is located in the body. Other factors involved in the symptoms involve how advanced cancer has progressed, whether it is metastasized (spread) to other areas of the body and its size. Some symptoms are not detected until years after lung cancer has developed and only appear once the disease has reached its advanced stage.
The most common lung cancer symptoms that affect air passageways, the lungs and chest include:
- Intense, persistent or nagging cough
- Hoarseness when speaking
- Intense pain in the back, chest or shoulder when coughing
- Difficulty swallowing and breathing
- Coughing up blood
- Chronic pneumonia or bronchitis
- Stridor (Unusual sounds when breathing)
- Sputum with blood and/or bloody mucus
If left untreated, the cancer can metastasize (spread) to other areas of the body and present additional symptoms that could include enlarged or swollen lymph nodes. If the disease spreads to the brain, additional symptoms may involve seizures, headaches or vertigo. If the lung cancer reaches a liver, the organ can become enlarged causing brittle, broken or painful bones and/or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
Advanced stages of lung cancer that have been allowed to metastasize to other areas and organs rob the body of its energy and present other symptoms that include:
- Unexplained and unplanned weight loss
- Blood clots were bleeding
- Overall weakness
- Swelling of the face or neck
- Problems with memory and brain function
- Painful bones and joints
Treating Lung Cancer
After the doctors diagnose lung cancer, the medical team will develop an effective treatment plan to minimize the potential complications of the progressive disease. However, the treatment will be dependent on the location of the cancer, its type, its stage, the health status of the patient, their age, their personal preferences and any unique individual characteristics. Usually, the team will consider surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. However, with recent advancements in other treatments, the doctor may recommend hormone therapy, immunotherapy, and gene therapy.
- Surgery – Surgical options to remove the tumor and associated lymph nodes can help the disease from spreading. This type of surgery is usually performed by a thoracic surgeon who has special training with lung cancers.
- Radiation – Radiotherapy is known to shrink and destroy lung cancer tumors that are bombarded by focused high energy raise of radiation.
- Chemotherapy – Strong cancer killing chemicals can stop the cell division process caused by damaged DNA. This procedure is conducted by a medical oncologist.
There are other effective treatments for lung cancer including the use of ACE inhibitors that were developed to treat breast and ovarian cancer.
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