Lung Cancer Treatment

Your lungs are 2 sponge-like organs in your chest. Your right lung has 3 sections, called lobes. Your left lung has 2 lobes. The left lung is smaller because the heart takes up more room on that side of the body. When you breathe in, air enters through your mouth or nose and goes into your lungs through the trachea (windpipe). The trachea divides into tubes called bronchi, which enter the lungs and divide into smaller bronchi. These divide to form smaller branches called bronchioles. At the end of the bronchioles are tiny air sacs known as alveoli.

The alveoli absorb oxygen into your blood from the inhaled air and remove carbon dioxide from the blood when you exhale. Taking in oxygen and getting rid of carbon dioxide are your lungs’ main functions. Lung cancers typically start in the cells lining the bronchi and parts of the lung such as the bronchioles or alveoli.

Types of Lung Cancer

There are two main types of lung cancer and they are treated very differently.

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): NSCLC accounts for approximately 85% of lung cancers. This type is further divided into more specific subtypes:
    • Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinomas start in the cells that would normally secrete substances such as mucus. This type of lung cancer mainly occurs in current or former smokers, but it is also the most common type seen in non-smokers. It is more common in women than in men, and it is more likely to occur in younger people than other types of lung cancer.
    • Squamous cell carcinoma: Squamous cell carcinomas start in squamous cells, which are flat cells that line the inside of the airways in the lungs. They are often linked to a history of smoking and tend to be found in the central part of the lungs, near a main airway (bronchus).
    • Large cell carcinoma: Large cell carcinoma can appear in any part of the lung. It tends to grow and spread quickly, which can make it harder to treat. A subtype of large cell carcinoma, known as large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma, is a fast-growing cancer that is very similar to small cell lung cancer.
  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC): SCLC is a rare type of lung cancer. It only occurs in about 10 to 15% of all lung cancers. This type of lung cancer tends to grow and spread faster than NSCLC. About 70% of people with SCLC will have cancer that has already spread at the time they are diagnosed.

Causes of Lung Cancer

Sometimes, there’s no obvious cause for lung cancer. However, the most common cause of cancer is smoking. However, other conditions, traits or habits may also play a role in raising your risk for this disease. These conditions are known as risk factors and include:

Non-modifiable risk factors: These factors are irreversible and cannot be changed. The more of these risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing this disease.

  • Older age
  • Family history/Genetics

Modifiable risk factors: These factors can be modified, treated or controlled through medications or lifestyle changes.

  • Long history of cigarette smoking and/or drug abuse
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to airborne contaminants
  • Exposure to other substances (i.e. arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel, etc.)

Other conditions that contribute to lung cancer

  • Pre-existing lung conditions such as COPD or pulmonary fibrosis

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

There are typically no noticeable symptoms in the earliest stages of lung cancer. However, as the disease progresses, some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent headaches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Recurring lung problems like bronchitis or respiratory infections
  • Persistent fatigue

Diagnosis of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer screenings are typically performed through a routine check-up even if no symptoms are present. Your doctor will also schedule a screening, if you are showing any symptoms or are exposed to certain risk factors. Typically, based on your doctor’s assessment, you will have or more of the following:

Diagnostic tests and procedures

  • X-rays
  • Computed Tomography (CT scan)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Positon-emission tomography (PET)
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Tissue biopsy

Stages of Lung Cancer

The above diagnostic tests will tell your doctor if cancer is present and what stage it has progressed to. There are four stages of lung cancer progression:

  • Stage I: The cancer is located only in the lungs and has not spread to any lymph nodes.
  • Stage II: The cancer is in the lung and nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage III: Cancer is found in the lung and in the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest, also described as locally advanced disease.
  • Stage IV: This is the most advanced stage of lung cancer, and is also described as advanced disease. This is when the cancer has spread to both lungs, to fluid in the area around the lungs, or to another part of the body, such as the liver or other organs.

Treatment of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer treatment is different for every patient. The type, severity, and growth of the cancer will affect what type of treatment the patient needs. Although there’s no sure way to prevent lung cancer, you can reduce your risk by adjusting your lifestyle choices and/or medications. If those are not enough, you may need a medical procedure. Some treatment options include:

Lifestyle changes

  • Avoid smoking
  • Test your home for radon
  • Avoid carcinogens at work
  • Make and keep appointments to see your doctor for routine check-ups and follow-up tests.

Medical and Surgical procedures

To contact one of New Jersey’s best lung and thoracic cancer specialists call
844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.

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