The Facts About Lung Cancer
The leading cause of cancer-related deaths of people in both the U.S. and the world, lung cancer often has a poor prognosis because it’s often not discovered until it’s too late.
Unfortunately, people who are diagnosed with lung cancer may have a greatly reduced quality of life and have to undergo extensive treatment. In addition to its physical challenges, lung cancer also brings psychological difficulties as people wrestle with anxiety and depression while they contend with potential end-of-life issues.
It’s important for people to understand the different types of lung cancers, the primary causes of the disease, its symptoms, and the available treatment options. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer occurs when there’s abnormal, malignant cells grow uncontrollably in one or both lungs. Often, the growth of abnormal cells begins in the lining of the air pathways.
Instead of developing into healthy lung tissue, these cancerous cells rapidly divide and form tumors. Some abnormal cells may form benign tumors, which stay in one place. Malignant tumors are the dangerous type, as they can spread throughout the body and form tumors in other organs and systems.
Lung cancer may be primary or secondary. Primary lung cancer begins in the lungs while secondary lung cancer begins elsewhere and spreads to the lungs. According to the American Cancer Society1, lung cancer accounts for 14 percent of all the new diagnoses of cancer in the U.S. each year. In the U.S., there are 1,370,000 deaths each year that are caused by lung cancer. There are two main categories of lung cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer and small lung cell cancer.
The Causes of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is caused when a cell has a mutation that makes it unable to die and unable to fix incorrect DNA. The mutations may be caused by many different factors, but the leading cause is the inhalation of carcinogens.
A large majority of lung cancers are caused by smoking or inhaling secondary smoke. Other carcinogens that can lead to lung cancer include asbestos, car exhaust fumes, arsenic, radiation, gamma rays, and the sun. Some people also have a genetic predisposition to develop cancer, including cancer of the lungs.
Lung Cancer’s Signs and Symptoms
While it is important for all people to recognize the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, it is especially important for people who have risk factors such as smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, or a family history of the disease.
Lung cancer may have multiple symptoms and signs, such as:
- Chronic cough that may be dry, occur with phlegm, or may contain blood
- Sharp or dull pain that occurs in the rib or chest region
- Pain with breathing
- Wheezing, shortness of breath, or frequent respiratory infections
- Whole body fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Chest discomfort
If you notice these symptoms, it is important for you to see your doctor so you can diagnose these problems. Catching lung cancer in its early stages can greatly improve your prognosis.
Treatment Options for Lung Cancer and Its Stages
Lung cancer treatment depends on whether you have small-cell lung cancer or non-small cell lung cancer as well as the stage in which your cancer is in.
If you have non-small cell lung cancer, your doctor may try surgery to remove the cancerous tumors. He or she may also use chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these treatments. If you are diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, your doctor will likely treat you with radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of the two.
Each type of lung cancer treatment is used to achieve different outcomes, including the following:
- Surgery to remove cancerous tissue
- Intravenous chemotherapy or chemotherapy medications to shrink or kill tumors
- Radiation to kill cancer cells
- Targeted therapies using drugs that block tumor growth
- Combinations of the above treatments
The treatments commonly used to treat lung cancer may have severe side effects. Your doctor may work together with other specialists to help to treat your cancer, the side effects of your treatment and to help you with the quality of your life.
Alternative Treatment Options
Some of the treatments for cancer such as chemotherapy and radiation may cause severe side effects, including nausea, stress on your other organs, and inflammation of your airways and lungs.
There are a variety of natural remedies you can try to alleviate your symptoms. Ginger can help fight nausea from chemotherapy or radiation. You can include it in your diet, eat thin slices of it, or drink it steeped in a tea. If you’re a smoker, taking vitamin D supplements may improve your bone health. Many smokers have a low level of vitamin D. Including it in your diet or taking it in supplement form may help.
The goal of alternative remedies for lung cancer is to help you to decrease your symptoms, kill cancer cells, provide support for your natural defenses, and to improve your quality of life. Some other alternative remedies include:
- Dietary changes to make more nutritional, vitamin-rich foods
- Immunotherapy to stimulate your immune system’s functioning
- Enzyme therapy to help to detoxify your body
- Oxygen therapy
- Meditation and exercise
It’s important that you discuss the alternative remedies you’re considering with your oncologist. Your doctor may give you some input about which natural remedies may offer the most benefit as complements to the other treatments that you are receiving.
It can be very frightening to receive a diagnosis of lung cancer. By recognizing the signs and symptoms and seeking a medical evaluation as soon as possible, you may secure an earlier diagnosis to improve your prognosis. If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, you should follow your doctor’s recommendations and consider trying some alternative remedies so that you can increase the likelihood that you will emerge cancer-free.
Lung Cancer Prognosis
The American Cancer Society2 reports that the prognosis of small-cell lung cancer depends on the stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis. People who are diagnosed with stage I small-cell lung cancer have a five-year survival rate of 31 percent. People who are diagnosed with stage II small-cell lung cancer have a five-year survival rate of 19 percent, and people who are diagnosed with stage III small-cell lung cancer have a five-year survival rate of eight percent. The ACS reports that people who are diagnosed with stage IV small-cell lung cancer have an effective five-year survival rate of two percent.
The prognosis is better if you are diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. According to the ACS3, 92 to 77 percent of people who are diagnosed with stage I non-small cell lung cancer will survive for at least five years, depending on whether they are diagnosed with stages IA1, IA2, or IA3. People who are diagnosed with stage IB non-small cell lung cancer have a five-year survival rate of 68 percent. Those who are diagnosed with stage IIA non-small cell lung cancer have a five-year survival rate of 60 percent. For those who are diagnosed with stage IIB cancer, the five-year survival rate is 53 percent.
If you are diagnosed with stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer, the five-year survival rate is 36 percent. Stage IIIB non-small cell lung cancer diagnoses have a five-year survival rate of 26 percent, and stage IIIC has a five-year survival rate of 13 percent. A stage IVA non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis carries a five-year survival rate of 10 percent, and a stage IVB non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis has a five-year survival rate of less than one percent.
A potential new treatment for lung cancer is currently being studied, New Atlas reports4. This treatment uses a combination of two pre-existing drugs, including epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors and tumor necrosis factor inhibitors. The researchers are looking at whether using these drugs in combination would inhibit the spread and growth of non-small cell lung cancer tumors. Both drugs are already approved for human use individually, and the researchers hope to have phase two human clinical trials fast-tracked by the FDA.