Lung cancer develops when the normal division of cells in the lungs goes wrong, and leads to an uncontrollable division of cells which cumulate into a tumour. These tumours can be either benign, meaning that they can be removed and remain in the lungs, or malignant, meaning that they can invade other areas of the body using the blood stream for example, and as a result are much harder to remove. Lung cancer is often seen as a hard cancer to treat as it typically develops and spreads through the body quicker than other cancers. Therefore spotting and treating early symptoms is hugely important.
Roughly a quarter of those with lung cancer often do not have any symptoms and are unaware that they have the disease. However, common early symptoms experienced with lung cancer include coughing, wheezing, coughing blood, a pain in the chest, a hoarsness in the voice, difficulty swallowing, pneumonia, and shoulder pains. With the body’s immune system busy fighting the cancer it is also common to experience colds more often than usual. Symptoms often resemble those of a cold meaning that sufferers are unlikely to report their symptoms. However it is important to be aware if symptoms are continuing more than they usually would, especially if you are at a higher risk of developing lung, as treating lung cancer in the early stages can make you 50% more likely to beat the disease.
As the cancer enters later stages and spreads through the body symptoms can include blurred vision, migranes, seizures, weight loss, depression, fatigue, strokes, swelling the face or neck, and pain under the right rib. These symptoms follow the cancer as it spreads into other areas of the body. At this point in the disease it becomes harder to treat the cancer, thus meaning reporting any early symptom is important.
Once going to your doctor with symptoms, lung cancer can be diagnosed in a variety of ways. These include X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, a visual examination of the lungs through threadlike cameras, blood tests, and at times surgical removal of the tumour to determine whether it is cancerous or not. Your doctor will discuss these options with you and advise you over their preferred course of action. The treatment offered to you will often take into account how developed the cancer is. Treatment will also be either be designed to remove the cancer (curative) or not remove the cancer but decrease the pain the cancer causes (palliative).
A common treatment for lung cancer is to surgically remove the tumour. This is commonly used in the early stages of cancer before it spreads, although it may not offer a cure as the cancer may have already started to spread to other areas of the body. Surgery also depends on where the tumour is in relation to delicate areas of the lungs which may make it harder to operate. Surgery can range from removing a small portion of the lung to removing the entire lung, depending on the extent of the cancer. Surgery comes with the risk of post-operation complications such as infections.
Chemotherapy is another common method used to treat lung cancer. This involves taking drugs to kill the cells in the tumour, or stopping them from dividing again. Chemotherapy is often the preferred treatment of lung cancer as it helps to combat cancerous cells elsewhere in the body instead of focusing purely on the lungs. Chemotherapy does of course come with side-effects, due to the drugs also killing off other harmless cells dividing in the body. Side-effects can include hair-loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss, fatigue, and mouth sores.
Radiation is a treatment which kills the dividing cancer cells by using X-rays or other forms of radiation. Radiation often shrinks the size of the tumour which, while not eradicating it completely, often helps other forms of treatment, such as surgery. Similarly to chemotherapy, radiation comes with side effects, such as reduced energy, fatigue, vomiting, irritated skin in the area of the tumour, and also a lowering in white blood cells which makes the patient more vulnerable to infection.
Other treatments available to fight lung cancer can include specific drugs used to attack the tumour, and other experimental procedures your doctor may be able to offer you. The treatment on offer for you will be the treatment doctors believe would be the most effective for you, but it should be possible to discuss your treatment and come up with a plan you are most comfortable with.