With any type of cancer, having a whole month dedicated to raising awareness is crucial when it comes to the health community.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a topic most people tend to avoid but should definitely not (the majority being smokers), especially since it is one of the highest causes of death in the world and accounts for 4 percent of deaths in Lebanon alone (according to the WHO’s latest data). Do you know that something as benign as a persistent cough or shortness of breath may be an indication of lung cancer?
This article is dedicated to everyone but especially to smokers who are unaware of how every cigarette is killing them slowly, day after day.
Some facts and figures:
- Lung cancer is one of the most common type of cancers affecting the Lebanese population;
- Lebanon is ranked 67th in the age adjusted death rates with 15.85 per 100,000 of population;
- Smoking tobacco is the leading cause of lung cancer in the world.
Lungs Anatomy 101:
Types of lung cancer:
It is very important to distinguish between the different types of lung cancer, because for each type, a special treatment is recommended. Usually, there are 3 types of lung cancer:
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: It is the most common type of lung cancer, around nine out of 10 suffer from this type. It also includes subtypes, such as squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, large cell/undifferentiated carcinoma.
Small Cell Lung Cancer: Also known as oat cell carcinoma. This rare type tends to grow and spread quickly (a process known as metastasis) to various parts of the body before being detected.
Lung Carcinoid Tumor: Less than 5 percent of lung cancers are of this type. It is also called lung neuroendocrine tumor, where the tumor normally grows and spreads very slowly.
Causes and Risk Factors:
- Smoking (the leading cause of lung cancer)
- Exposure to second-hand smoking (exposed to people who smoke)
- Exposure to radon , a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt
- Exposure to chemicals and radiation
- Exposure to industrial areas
- Air pollution
- Tuberculosis (an infectious bacterial disease)
- Genetics (inherited or environmental gene mutations)
Lung cancer symptoms
- Persistent and intense coughing (3 weeks or more)
- Chest, back and shoulder pain
- Changes in color and quantity of sputum (mixture off saliva and mucus)
- Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath)
- Harsh sounds with each breath (also known as stridor)
- Recurrent lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
- Coughing blood
- Changes in voice
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Joint and bone pain
Lung cancer prevention and early detection
First and foremost, if you really want to prevent lung cancer, stop smoking or don’t start smoking!
Other possible screening tests to detect lung cancer at an early stage consist of:
Before doing any tests, consult your doctor and discuss your symptoms. The doctor might want to know more about your medical history and probably undergo a simple physical test.
A sample of your sputum (mixture of mucus and saliva) might be taken to analyse and see if it contains cancer cells, or not.
While chest X-rays can’t really detect the the presence of all types of cancerous cells, your doctor might still ask you to undergo one.
CT Scans are more accurate and precise than X-rays when it comes to detect any possible tutors in the lungs. It can help detect changes in size, shape and position of tumors, or even enlarged lymph nodes that may contain cancer cells.
Treatment and therapies
- Surgery: surgical removal of the tumor. This includes pneumonectomy and lobectomy.
- Radiofrequency Ablation: For those who cannot undergo a surgery, this technique uses high-energy radio waves to heat the tumor and destroy the cancer cells.
- Radiotherapy: treatment aiming to kill cancer cells with radiation. A beam of radiation is targeted on the cancer, which causes it to shrink.
- Chemotherapy: the use of chemical substances, especially one or more anti-cancer drugs (chemotherapeutic agents) that aim to destroy cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy: the use of medicine to stimulate the patient’s own immune system to recognise and attack the tumor causing damage to the lung.
Every Treatment method has its own side-effects and complications. Therefore make sure you have discussed your option extensively with your doctor (or more than one doctor) before taking any decision.
And finally a healthy diet, meditation and relaxation techniques in addition to a strong support system are great therapeutical methods to alleviate pain and the emotional stress that accompanies the patient.