Lung cancer is a tumour of the airways. Tumours are lumps of abnormal cells which get bigger over time. These tumour cells can spread to other parts of the body and grow there. These are called secondary tumours or metastases.
The major cause of lung cancers is cigarette smoking, both actively and passively (inhaling other people’s smoke). Working in asbestos industries has also been identified as an important cause.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and breathlessness that don’t get better over time. Other symptoms include:
• Coughing up blood.
• Repeated chest infections, such as pneumonia.
• Unexplained weight loss.
• Chest pain, hoarseness of voice and difficulty swallowing.
• Bone pains if the cancer has spread to the bones.
What treatments work?
The main treatment for some lung cancers, where possible, is surgery to remove the tumour. Irradiation (radiotherapy), drugs (chemotherapy), or both may be used to kill any remaining cancer cells. The particular treatment modality is largely determined by:
• the type and site of the lung cancer
• the stage of the cancer
• the general state of health and fitness
• the choice of the person affected.
Generally, surgery is the most suitable treatment for a small tumour that hasn’t spread. It may not be appropriate for tumours close to the heart or a major blood vessel.
Chemotherapy may be used alone or with radiotherapy (in case of inoperable cancers) or after surgery. Chemotherapy drugs can have various side effects. The doctor will explain these better and may give extra drugs to reduce some of these side effects.
Radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill lung cancer cells and to shrink tumours. It can be used alone or along with chemotherapy. It can also be given before or after surgery.
What will happen to me?
By and large, the chances of survival for people with lung cancer is determined by the type and how early it was found. The kind of treatment chosen will also make a difference, but this is also in turn largely dependent on the stage of the cancer at diagnosis. So it is always advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible.