Cancer is a global menace characterised by disordered, uncontrolled proliferation of body cells. In other words, cancer cells defy all in-built regulatory mechanisms of the body system to continue dividing without any need for such and in most cases, this unabated process culminates in death. Understandably, when the lungs happen to fall victim to this chaotic process, the implications are even more grave in view of the central role the lungs play in the body. In tandem with the heart, the lungs ensure that oxygen-rich blood is distributed throughout the entire body in exchange for potentially toxic carbondioxide gas which is then expelled when we breathe out.
Highlighted below are some important facts that you need to know about lung cancer
1. Lung cancer is a major killer
According to the World Health Organisation, lung cancer results in about 1.4 million deaths annually throughout the world. The incidence has been on the increase in developing countries on account of increased tobacco use. In terms of incidence and mortality worldwide, especially among men over 50 years who had a significant history of smoking. Furthermore, it’s been observed that while the incidence has been declining among men in the last few decades, more cases are now being recorded among women.
2. Smoking remains a leading risk factor
The link between smoking and lung cancer cannot be overemphasized. In fact, research has shown that cigarette smoke contains no less than 73 known carcinogens including benzopyrene and 1,3-butadiene. Marijuana smoke also contains most of these carcinogens. Overall, smoking accounts for about 80 – 90% of cases of lung cancer. Plus passive smoking also confers significant risk such that people who live with someone who smokes have a 20 – 30% increased risk compared to others. Statistics from the United States revealed that passive smoking accounts for up to 3400 deaths from lung cancer annually.
3. Asbestos workers are more likely to develop lung cancer
It’s been shown that asbestos and tobacco smoking tend to have a synergistic effect in increasing lung cancer risk. In fact, asbestos workers who also smoke have 45-fold increased risk of suffering from lung cancer compared to the general population. In addition, excessive asbestos exposure may lead to mesothelioma, a cancer of the pleural covering of the lungs. Other important risk factors include indoor and outdoor air pollution, radon gas exposure as well as a family history of lung cancer.
4. Lung cancer often produces signs and symptoms
Lung cancer usually produces respiratory symptoms such as cough sometimes productive of blood (hemoptysis) and chest pain. If the cancer grows into the airways, airflow may be obstructed leading to difficulty with breathing. Systemic symptoms like weight loss, poor appetite, fever and fatigue are sometimes observed, although non-specific. However, it is important to note that in up to 10% of individuals, lung cancer shows no symptoms at the time of diagnosis and it is only discovered on routine chest radiography.
5. Lung cancers may spread very early
It is quite common especially with small cell lung cancer that by the time affected individuals notice symptoms and seek medical attention, the cancer has already spread far beyond the original site thereby creating a more difficult scenario to treat. Common sites of spread include the brain, bone, adrenals, liver, kidneys as well as the opposite lung. Pointers to likely spread include bone pains as well as neurological symptoms such as headache, convulsions and limb weakness or paralysis.
6. Numerous treatment options are available
Depending on the cell type and stage of lung cancer at the time of diagnosis, a number of treatment options may be offered including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or palliative care. For instance, removal of a lobe of lung (lobectomy) or wedge resection is often used to cure most cases of early-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, small cell lung carcinoma is more responsive to chemotherapy with or without radiotherapy.
7. Preventive measures are key
In a bid to stem the tides of lung cancer among unsuspecting passive smokers, most countries have prohibited smoking in public places such as restaurants and workplaces. In addition, the World Health Organisation has called on governments to place a total ban on the advertising of tobacco and tobacco products.
Also, sophisticated tests such as computed tomography (CT) scan can be used to screen high-risk individuals for lung cancer in order to enhance early detection and institute prompt treatment to forestall complications.