Lung Cancer: Symptoms, Causes,
Diagnosis and Prevention
Lung cancer: A malignant growth, or tumor, affecting one or both lungs.
When to consult a doctor
The growth usually starts on the bronchial tubes which carry air to and from the trachea (windpipe). In such cases its medical name is bronchogenic carcinoma. Other terms sometimes used are pulmonary neoplasm (lung tumor) and respiratory cancer.
There are several different types of lung cancer, depending on the cells within the lungs that are affected.
The disease usually appears in middle to old age, and is 15 times more common among cigarette smokers than among those who do not smoke.
- A dry irritant cough which at first resembles that of a heavy smoker. Later, yellow phlegm may be coughed up.
- Spitting blood more than once in a week. Pure blood may be coughed up, but more commonly streaks of fresh (red) or altered (brown) blood are mixed with phlegm.
- Shortness of breath, loss of mass, and a dull continuous pain in the chest or shoulders.
- Sometimes the first sign of the disease is a sudden feverish illness which is often mistaken for pneumonia.
- Lung cancer can become irreversibly established before it is detected, because it can take weeks or even months for the symptoms to reveal themselves. Even regular chest X-rays and sputum tests often fail to detect lung cancer at its earliest symptom-free treatable stage.
- If the cancer is not treated, it progresses steadily.
- Smoking. Stopping smoking at any time before the disease has started greatly reduces the otherwise high risks.
- Air pollution. Lung cancer occurs more frequently in towns than in the country. Prolonged exposure to some industrial dusts (for example asbestos) increases the risk of lung cancer, particularly in smokers.
- The cancer may spread to other parts of the body, most commonly to bone and the brain, and the veins draining the head and arms may become blocked (superior vena cava syndrome).
When to consult a doctor
- If any of the symptoms appear.
- If the patient’s general state of health causes him or her friends or relatives to think of lung cancer.
- Anybody over 35 who has a cough which persists for more than a month should seek medical advice. This applies particularly to smokers or someone who has recently had pneumonia.
- The cancer is diagnosed by chest X-rays, CT scans, sputum examination, and a biopsy of the tumor using a bronchoscope if possible.
Keep your lungs healthy!
- Do not smoke, and quit smoking if you do. Even in heavy smokers, after five years of non-smoking, the risk of developing lung cancer will reduce to near normal.
- Smokers and other high-risk groups should have regular chest X-rays.
- Observe industrial safety regulations strictly in working areas where there are harmful dusts such as asbestos.
- If the disease is detected in its earlier stages it may sometimes be cured.
- The outlook, despite treatment by surgery or chemotherapy, is not usually good. Fewer than 20% of all patients with lung cancer survive more than five years from diagnosis. Those with small cell (oat cell) carcinoma usually die within a year. That is why it is vital to stop smoking in order to reduce the risk of lung cancer.
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