What is Lung Cancer - Incidence, Signs, Symptoms, Causation, Prognosis and Treatment


Lung cancer may also be the most tragic cancer because in most cases, it might have been prevented, 87% of cases are caused by smoking. Lung cancer has long been the most common cause of cancer death in men and since 1987 it has also become the most common cause of cancer death in women. It is the second most commonly occurring form of cancer in most western countries and although the lung cancer incidence is less common in developing countries, the rapid increase in the popularity of smoking will see the number of sufferers in those countries quickly catch up with the western world.

Lung cancers can arise in any part of the lung, and 90%-95% of cancers of the lung are thought to arise from the epithelial, or lining cells of the larger and smaller airways (bronchi and bronchioles); for this reason, lung carcinomas are sometimes called bronchogenic carcinomas or bronchogenic cancers.

The most common types are epidermoid carcinoma, small cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma.

Most experts agree that lung cancer is attributable to inhalation of carcinogenic pollutants by a susceptible host. Who is most susceptible? Any smoker over the age of 40, especially if they began smoking before the age of 15, have smoked 20 or more for 20 years, or worked with or near asbestos. Two other factors also increase susceptibility: exposure to carcinogenic industrial and air pollutants (asbestos, uranium, arsenic, nickel, iron oxides, chromium, radio active dust, and coal dust.) and familial susceptibility.


Because early lung cancer usually produces no symptoms, the disease is often in an advanced stage when first diagnosed. Late stage signs are: with epidermoid and small cell carcinoma; smokers cough, hoarseness, wheezing, dyspnea, hemoptysis and chest pain. With adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma; fever, weakness, weight loss, anorexia and shoulder pain. In addition, hormone production which regulates various body functions may also be affected.


Firm diagnosis requires chest x rays, sputum cytology, CT scanning, bronchoscopy the examination of pleural fluid and biopsies. Other tests to detect metastasis include bone scans, bone marrow biopsy and CT scans of the brain and abdomen.


The disease most often spreads to the liver, the adrenal glands, the bones, and the brain. Cancer that has metastasized to the bone causes bone pain, usually in the backbone (vertebrae), the thighbones, and the ribs. Cancer that spreads to the brain can cause difficulties with vision and weakness on one side of the body.

The cancer may grow into certain nerves in the neck, causing a droopy eyelid, small pupil, sunken eye, and reduced perspiration on one side of the face; together these symptoms are called Horner’s syndrome (see Autonomic Nervous System Disorders: Horner’s Syndrome). It may grow directly into the esophagus, or it may grow near it and put pressure on it, leading to difficulty in swallowing. It may also spread through the bloodstream to the liver, brain, adrenal glands, spinal cord, and bone.


Treatment depends on the cancer’s specific cell type, how far it has spread, and the patient’s performance status. If investigations confirm lung cancer, CT scan and often positron emission tomography (PET) are used to determine whether the disease is localised and amenable to surgery or whether it has spread to the point where it cannot be cured surgically. Treatment is usually a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

There are also a multitude of alternative medicine treatments that are being advocated on the internet but very few if any stack up to thorough investigation. There is one area of research that does seem to offer hope and that is the intensive study of the body’s Redox mechanisms over the last 20 years. It has been postulated that changes in the Redox cell signaling system could be responsible for aberrant behaviour in cell function such as is seen in cancer and that restoring Redox homeostasis (balance) may reverse such pathologies and improve health.

Surgery has traditionally been the first option but at times Chemotherapy can be suggested as a first line treatment for or as additional treatment after surgery. Radiation therapy can be directed at your cancer from outside your body (external beam radiation) or it can be put inside needles, seeds or catheters and placed inside your body near the cancer (brachytherapy). Radiation therapy can be used alone or along with other lung cancer treatments and it can also be used to lessen side effects of lung cancer.

As suggested above a cell signaling supplement may be worth considering as well to support the body’s natural defenses.

Treatment may not be as effective for patients with bone or liver metastases from lung cancer, excessive weight loss, ongoing cigarette use, or pre-existing medical conditions such as heart disease or emphysema. At some point, if you and your oncologist or primary care physician agree that treatment no longer is advisable, hospice care can provide comfort.

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