Being diagnosed with lung cancer can change someone’s life overnight. And with that comes a series of questions on symptoms, treatments and overall prognosis.
Like all other types of cancer, lung cancer begins with a series of mutations in the DNA of previously healthy cells in the lungs. The abnormal lung cells can then grow and divide rapidly to form cancerous tumours in the lungs. Getting a lung cancer diagnosis can be frightening and unsettling, but getting the correct information about it can help you make the best decisions to support your recovery process. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about lung cancer and treatment.
1. What are some common and less known symptoms of lung cancer?
Some of the most common symptoms of lung cancer include a persistent cough (sometimes with blood), a loss of appetite, chest and shoulder pain, persistent chest infections and shortness of breath.
Other symptoms include a hoarse voice that doesn’t get better, recurring infections like bronchitis or pneumonia, and swollen lymph nodes around the collarbone or in the neck area. There might also be other signs and symptoms that appear if cancer has already spread to other places such as headaches or muscle weakness. 2. What are the different types of lung cancer? There are two main types of lung cancer, namely:
· Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): including squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and neuroendocrine tumours.
· Small cell lung cancer (SCLC): an aggressive form of lung cancer that tends to develop quicker than NSCL. This form mostly occurs in smokers.
Non-small cell lung cancer is more common and more treatable than small cell lung cancer, which is the rarer and more aggressive type between the two. The cancer cells in both lung cancer types grow and spread in different ways and therefore require different treatments.
Once you have obtained a clear diagnosis, your doctor will classify the lung cancer by stage (Stage l to Stage IV) to determine how much cancer has grown and how far it has spread.
There are multiple stages that your lung cancer can be in. For NSCLC, there are 4 stages. For SCLC, there are two stages: limited and extensive. 3. How is lung cancer diagnosed? Regular cancer-focused health screenings are your best bet in detecting cancer early. It can take anywhere from a few months to years for lung cancer to reach a size where it can be diagnosed on a chest X-ray, which is why lung cancer doctors recommend scheduling yearly cancer screening tests for high-risk individuals. Should your doctor review your symptoms and suspect cancer, they may order certain diagnostic tests to confirm and make a decision regarding the cancer diagnosis and treatment.
This includes imaging tests like chest X-rays, low-dose CT (computed tomography) scans, PET (positron emission tomography) scans and a lung endoscopy to help look for visible tumours and determine how the cancer is changing.
However, a biopsy is the only test needed to diagnose cancer – this involves taking tissue samples from your lung for further testing under a microscope. This is a minimally invasive method that is quick and relatively painless.
4. What are the risk factors for lung cancer? Lung cancer screening tests are highly recommended for high-risk individuals. In general, older adults are at the highest risk with most cases occurring after the age of 65.
But by far the biggest risk factor for getting lung cancer is smoking. This is because the toxic carcinogens contained in tobacco smoke damage cells in the respiratory system. About 80-90% of lung cancer cases can be traced to smoking, and individuals who smoke heavily are at a greater risk of developing cancer1.
However, approximately 20% of patients who die from lung cancer have never smoked a cigarette in their life2 – exposure to radon gas and other cancer-causing agents like asbestos and diesel can also increase your risk of lung cancer.
5. How is lung cancer treated?
The treatment for lung cancer is highly determined by the type and stage of the lung cancer. Treatments can be grouped into local and systemic treatments which aim to kill off cancer cells or keep them from growing or spreading. Key treatments for lung cancer include:
· Radiation therapy
· Targeted therapy
SCLC tends to respond better to chemotherapy, while early-stage NSCLC is often effectively cured and treated with surgery.
In cases where the cancer is more widespread or the patient is not well enough to undergo surgery, a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be administered to help shrink tumours and destroy cancer cells. Some patients also benefit from newer treatment methods, such as those offered in ICS. An example would immunotherapy, which leverages the body’s immune system to attack specific types of cancer cells.
Most of the time, lung cancer is treated with a combination of treatments, i.e., surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
6. What are the side effects of lung cancer treatment?
Many patients are worried about the side effects of lung cancer treatment and how it will affect their normal day-to-day life. Some common side effects to expect with lung cancer treatments include:
· Chemotherapy: Hair loss, increased risk of infection, nausea, difficulty eating, constipation, diarrhoea, extreme fatigue, bleeding and bruising, pain and swelling around the injection site.
· Surgery: Reactions to anaesthesia, pain, excess bleeding, blood clots in the legs or lungs, wound infections, pneumonia and shortness of breath.
· Radiation therapy: Inflammation, tenderness and sensitive skin near the site of radiation treatment. A dry, sore throat and difficulty swallowing and general loss of appetite are also common.
7. How can I reduce my risk of lung cancer? While there is no guaranteed way to prevent lung cancer or change your family medical history, you can reduce your risk of getting the disease by quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and leading an active lifestyle can also improve your overall health in addition to protecting yourself from cancer. For individuals who are at a high risk of getting lung cancer, they should also schedule regular lung cancer screening tests as recommended by their doctor. Conclusion ICS is a lung cancer treatment centre that believes in providing quality multidisciplinary care to our patients. Our team includes lung cancer specialists and multiple partnering medical specialists such as surgeons, radiation oncologists, radiologists and pathologists.
To add to your support in every step of the way, we also provide services such as personalised nutrition plans, teleconsultations, and cancer-focused health screenings. Ultimately, know that you won’t be alone in your cancer journey. Should you have any other questions about lung cancer or the treatment process, get in touch with us today at +65 6235 9005, or WhatsApp us at +65 8168 6908.
1. What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer? | CDC. (2020). Retrieved 22 September 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
2. Lung Cancer Risks for People Who Don't Smoke. (2020). Retrieved 22 September 2021, from https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/why-lung-cancer-strikes-nonsmokers.html