Lung Cancer Definition
There are three main varieties of lung cancer, and each is treated differently. These are: Non-small cell lung cancer, small cell lung cancer, and lung carcinoid tumors.
Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common of the three, affecting about 85% of people with the disease. Subtypes of non-small cell lung cancer include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.
The second most common is small cell lung cancer, which represents about 10% to 15% of total cases. Small cell lung cancer often spreads very quickly, making it particular dangerous.
Lastly, fewer than 5% of lung cancer patients suffer from lung carcinoid tumors. These tumors are sometimes called neuroendocine tumors, and they tend to grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body.
If you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, it’s important to understand which variety you have so that you’re fully informed about the challenges of treatment. After testing and the staging of your cancer, a doctor will be able to offer a prognosis.
Lung Cancer Stages
Cancer staging is the process of identifying the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. When lung cancer is detected in its early stages, the chance of successful treatment is far greater. However, when the cancer spreads it leads to a higher staging and the chance of successful treatment is reduced. Since lung cancer doesn’t usually cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages, diagnosis often isn’t possible until it’s spread.
Because there are multiple varieties of lung cancer, staging can be quite complicated. Each form of lung cancer has it’s own criteria for staging, so it’s important to review each individually.
Non-small cell lung cancer staging
There are four stages associated with non-small cell lung cancer. They are as follows:
Stage I – There is cancer in the lung, but no cancer has been found outside of the lung.
Stage II – There is cancer in the lung and in lymph nodes located nearby the lung.
Stage III – There is cancer in the lung, middle of the chest, and nearby lymph nodes.
Stage IIIA – There is cancer in the lymph nodes, but only on the same side of the chest with the lung where the cancer was first located.
Stage IIIB – The cancer has spread from the lung to lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest or above the collarbone
Stage IV – The cancer has spread to both lungs, into regions surrounding the lungs, or to distant organs in the body like the liver or pancreas
Staging for small cell lung cancer
There are two stages associated with small cell lung cancer. They are as follows:
Limited Stage – This means that the cancer is found in one lung, and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the affected lung.
Extensive Stage – This means that the cancer has spread throughout one lung and to the opposite lung, to lymph nodes, to fluid around the lung, to bone marrow, and to distant organs.
Lung cancer staging and the TNM System
All three varieties of lung cancer utilize the TNM System for the purpose of staging. This formal system is based on three key pieces that doctors use to determine the lung cancer’s stage – T for Tumor, N for Nodes, and M for metastasis.
These are broken down as follows:
T-Tumor – This designates the size of the tumor and whether it’s grown into organs or tissue surrounding the tumor. This is important because it helps doctors determine the best way to treat the tumor.
N-Nodes – This designates whether the lung cancer has spread into any lymph nodes in the region of the cancer.
M-metastasis – This designates whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) into any other organs besides the lungs. This may include the brain, kidneys, adrenal glands, liver, bones, or even the other lung.
The numerals that appear after these letter designations offer more specific details about the cancer to doctors attempting to stage it. Numbers of higher value represent cancers in more advanced stages. Doctors will compile all of this information into a “stage grouping” that determines the overall stage of the cancer and allows them to prepare a prognosis for the patient.
The earliest stage of lung cancer is Stage 0. As the cancer becomes more advanced it will stage from I through IV, with the latter being the most advanced form of the cancer. The lower the staging, the less the lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Obviously, higher staging requires different treatment protocols than lower staging, and the prognosis isn’t as good.
The TNM staging system is quite complex, and it is often difficult for the layman to understand. Every lung cancer is unique to the patient, so it’s important to discuss your staging with your doctor to understand the challenges you face. Depending on the nature of your cancer, you may have to choose between different treatment protocols. Each will have its own statistical level of potential success based on accumulated data from other patients. This statistical data in no way means that the same treatments will have the same effect on your cancer.
If your doctor uses the TNM system to stage your cancer, be sure to ask them to explain it in a way that you can understand.
Lung Cancer Symptoms (signs of Lung cancer)
Symptoms associated with the three main types of lung cancer are very similar. Unfortunately, symptoms may take years to develop, and by this time the cancer may already have spread to other parts of the body. Advanced lung cancers are difficult to treat, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you notice any sudden changes in your health, especially if they persist.
Persons with undetected lung cancer may have symptoms that originate in the chest or elsewhere in the body. First we will break down the most common symptoms that appear in the chest.
• Coughing – Especially a persistent or intense cough
• Pain the chest, back, or shoulder unrelated to coughing
• Shortness of breath or wheezing
• A change in the volume or color of sputum
• Hoarseness or changes in the voice’s timber
• Recurrent lung infections like pneumonia or bronchitis
• Rough sounds when breathing
• Coughing up blood
• Coughing up mucus
Obviously, any of these symptoms are more likely to be from some other health issue than lung cancer, but each warrants attention from a doctor, especially if it persists. Coughing up blood could be life-threatening under any circumstances, so if you experience this symptom you should seek emergency medical attention.
Symptoms of lung cancer that could occur elsewhere in the body include the following.
• Unexpected weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Muscle wasting
• Fatigue or weakness
• Headaches, joint pain, or bone pain
• Unexplained bone fractures
• Memory loss or other neurological symptoms
• Facial or neck swelling
• Blood clots
As with symptoms in the chest, these symptoms are most often the result of some other ailment, and not lung cancer. However, multiple or persistent symptoms could indicate a serious health problem, so you should definitely consult your physician.
Lung Cancer Statistics
Lung cancer (both non-small cell and small cell) is the second more common cancer in the United States among both women and men. Prostate cancer is more common for men, and breast cancer is more common for women.
According the American Cancer Society, around 14% of all newly diagnosed cancers are lung cancers. This means that there are about 234,000 new cases of lung cancer every year, about 123,000 of which are men. The rest are women. Of these, around 155,000 result in death, more than 83,000 of which are men.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, exceeding the death totals from breast, colon, and prostate cancer collectively. While lung cancer mainly affects older men and women over the age of 65, some people are diagnosed at a much younger age. The average age for persons diagnosed with lung cancer is 70 years.
What are the chances of developing lung cancer in your lifetime? Risk factors may vary according to genetic markers and health habits, which may ultimately skew statistical probability of developing lung cancer. About 1 in 15 men and 1 in 17 women will develop lung cancer in their lifetime, on average. Smokers have a much higher risk of developing lung cancer, but non-smokers have a lower risk.
Black men are 20% more likely to develop lung cancer than white men. Black women are 10% less likely to develop the disease than white women. While women are currently at lower risk than men to develop lung cancer, the gap is narrowing. Black men are 15% less likely to develop small cell lung cancer than white men, and black women have a 30% lower risk than white women.
The stage of a patient’s lung cancer when it’s diagnosed can greatly influence their survival rate. Obviously, persons with later-stage lung cancer face higher risks and more aggressive treatment protocols. You may be surprised to learn that despite the seriousness of this disease, there are more than 420,000 people alive today who were diagnosed with lung cancer at some point in their life. This proves that no one should ever give up hope.
Statistics only tell a part of the story, because every patient has a unique situation. There are many alternative treatments and newly discovered medications every year that offer new hope for cancer patients, so the outlook for survival is always improving.
Causes of Lung Cancer
Science cannot explain exactly what exactly causes lung cancer, but many risk factors are well known and documented. Doctors also don’t understand why certain risk factors cause cells to turn cancerous and spread. These are some of the most common risk factors that increase a person’s risk of developing lung cancer in their lifetime.
• Smoking – To put it bluntly, smoking causes lung cancer. Not only are smokers far more likely to developing lung cancer, those who routinely breathe secondhand smoke are also at risk.
While smoking is dangerous on its own, it also interacts with other risk factors to further increase a smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer. Smokers exposed to radon or asbestos have an increased chance of developing lung cancer at some point in their lives. Some people that smoke their entire life never develop lung cancer, so even though smoking is a bad idea, other factors obviously play a role.
• Lung cancer in non smokers – While more rare, persons who have never smoked a day in their life can develop lung cancer. Exposure to secondhand smoke, pollution, asbestos, diesel exhaust, radon, and many other chemicals can increase the risk of developing the disease. There is a small percentage of people with lung cancer who have no known risk factors, but this is likely because their risk factors are currently unidentified by science.
• Cancer causes related to gene changes – Sometimes DNA within lung cells change, which leads to abnormal cell growth where cancer can develop. Some genes function to help cells grow or divide, and others control cell division or cause cells to die when the time is right. When these genes fail to function nominally, cancer can develop.
• Genetics and inherited gene changes – Some people inherit gene mutations from their parents that increase their risk for developing lung cancer. Scientists do not believe that this risk factor plays much of a role in most cases of lung cancer, even though it’s obvious that they have some measure of influence.
Some people are genetically incapable of breaking down tobacco smoke as well as others, so they these people have an inherently higher risk of developing lung cancer. Scientists hope that a test will be eventually be developed that’s capable of identifying people with higher genetic risk factors.
• Gene changes that are acquired – Genetic changes to cells that cause lung cancer are usually acquired during a person’s lifetime. This may be due to chemical exposure or some other environmental factor. Smoking tobacco is one such example. Some gene changes are purely random and seem to happen with no known external influence.
Obviously, preventing the onset of lung cancer starts by avoiding lifestyle choices that increase risk. If you’re a smoker, quit. If you work in a job where you’re exposed to chemicals that increase the chance of developing lung cancer, find another line of work. This is especially true if your family has a history of lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Screening and Prevention
If lung cancer can be identified at an early stage, it can often be treated successfully. However, symptoms often aren’t felt until the cancer is at a later stage, making treatment more difficult. Lung cancer also spreads quickly which makes an early diagnosis even more challenging.
Screening is the process of using physical exams and tests to find cancer in people that aren’t showing any signs of the disease. There have been some attempts at using x-rays to screen for lung cancer, but this process has proven largely ineffective. Low dose CAT scans and CT scans (LDCT) are currently being used to to study people at higher risk of developing lung cancer with some success. If you’re at higher risk of developing lung cancer, your doctor may recommend getting an LDCT test every year to lower your risk of dying from the disease.
If you’re between the ages of 55 and 74 and in good health, the American Cancer Society recommends annual lung cancer LDCT screenings if you meet the following criteria:
• You smoke or quit smoking in the last 15 years, and….
• You have at least a 30 “pack-year” history of smoking (If you smoke 2 packs a day, you would have a 30 pack-year history in only 15 years), and
• You are getting counseling to quit smoking, and
• Your doctor has talked to you about LDCT scans, and
• You are located somewhere that you can get the screening done
While screening is a good idea for many people people who are at high risk of developing lung cancer, prevention is still one of the best ways to minimize risk. One of the best prevention methods is to avoid smoking tobacco products or breathing in other people’s smoke. Quitting the habit of smoking has other immediate benefits, as damaged lung tissue will immediately begin repairing itself.
Another way to prevent the onset of lung cancer is to avoid radon and exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. Have your house tested for radon, and pay close attention to the chemicals you’re exposed to at work. When handling or breathing dangerous substances, use proper protection like respirators and gloves.
A healthy diet is another way to prevent cancer from developing. In fact, there is evidence that suggests eating lots of fruits and vegetables protects the body from developing lung cancer. Along with a healthy diet, an active lifestyle with plenty of exercise also promotes overall wellness and can reduce your risk of developing cancer.
Lung Cancer Treatments
Different treatment protocols may be used for different varieties of lung cancer. What follows is a breakdown of mainstream medicine’s preferred treatment protocols for each of the three main lung cancer varieties.
Treatments for Small Cell Lung Cancer
Mainstream treatment protocols for small cell lung cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. There are also palliative treatments that are used to help alleviate severe symptoms associated with small cell lung cancer. It’s common for more than one type of treatment to be used, but chemotherapy is more commonly used to fight small cell lung cancer. Radiation is sometimes used for those with limited stage small cell lung cancer. Surgery is a rarely used for patients with small cell lung cancer.
Every lung cancer treatment causes side effects ranging from mild to severe. Much depends on the stage of the cancer and the overall health of the patient. Sometimes complementary or alternative treatment methods are used by patients to help with pain, relieve symptoms, or achieve other goals. Many alternative treatments fall outside of the primary care fields, so it’s important to talk to your doctor before using any non-prescribed treatment to ensure that it doesn’t have a negative effect on current treatment protocols.
Treatments for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Unlike small cell lung cancer, surgery is used for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. Surgery offers patients the best chance of a cure, but it is complicated and can pose serious consequences, so it’s vital that an experienced surgeon perform the operation.
As with small cell lung cancer, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are also used to treat non-small cell lung cancer. Other treatments include radiofrequency ablation (RFA), targeted therapies, and immunotherapy. More than one type of treatment may also be used on a single patient.
Treatments for Lung Carcinoid Tumors
Treatments used for lung carcinoid tumors will depend on the size and location of the tumor, and whether it has spread. Overall health of the patient also plays a key role. Surgery is the preferred form of treatment by most doctors, but if it’s spread, other forms of treatment may be needed. Surgery may involve removal of the entire lung or only part of the lung, also called a lobe.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be used to treat these tumors, either with surgery or independent of it. There are also some drug therapies sometimes used to control symptoms for patients with metastasic lung carcinoid tumors, and they may even help prevent the tumor from growing for a period of time.
With any treatment, you should take the time needed to talk to your doctor and get an in-depth understanding of your options. Most treatment protocols have inherent risks and side effects that can significantly impact your life.
Alternative Treatments Used for Lung Cancer
If a treatment for lung cancer falls outside of the spectrum of traditional mainstream medicine, it is commonly referred to as “alternative.” There are many alternative treatments for cancer, but it’s important to fully understand your options before making any final decisions.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are highly toxic and can damage far more than just cancer cells. These treatments can make a patient weaker and negatively impact their immune system. If the treatment protocol fails, the patient may be too weak to attempt a different form of treatment.
Some alternative cancer treatments focus on specifically identifying the nature of the patient’s unique form of lung cancer. This personalized approach allows doctors to develop treatment protocols specifically designed to fight the particular cancer in their body. This is different than the one-size-fits-all approach commonly used by mainstream medicine.
The goal with some forms of alternative cancer treatments is to enhance the body’s natural ability to fight cancer by reinforcing the immune system via diet and other techniques. While chemotherapy and radiation therapy damage the immune system, alternative treatments focus on good health, exercise, and a diet full of vitamin-rich foods to reinforce the body’s natural cancer-fighting abilities.
Any lung cancer treatment should be thoroughly researched, whether it’s mainstream or alternative. You should also talk to more than one doctor, with other lung cancer patients, and from those who have successfully fought the disease. Treatment is ultimately up to you, so knowing and understanding your options makes good sense.
Vitamins and Supplements Used in the Treatment of Lung Cancer
There are many vitamins and supplements that studies show may play a role in the successful treatment and prevention of lung cancer. What follows is a breakdown of some of the most common supplements used by patients.
Vitamin D is vital for maintaining good health, and it is thought to play a key role in cancer prevention. Interestingly, many people are unaware that they have a Vitamin D deficiency. One study showed that patients with higher vitamin D intake had a longer period of recurrence-free survival than those with less. If you live in a more northern latitude, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the proper amount of vitamin D, which may require taking a supplement.
Melatatoin is used a supplement for some patients receiving chemotherapy, because it’s shown to increase survival rates and promote tumor regression. This hormone is naturally secreted by the pineal gland to regulate the sleep cycle.
Vitamin E was the subject of a study involving smokers, and it was shown that it could help reduce the risk of developing lung cancer by up to 19%.
Zinc supplements have been shows to significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer, and this effect is maximized when zinc is taken daily.
Soy Isoflavones are a dietary choice that may help lower the mortality rate in persons diagnosed with lung cancer. One scientific study showed that women with high soy levels in their diet before being diagnosed with lung cancer had mortality rates 81% lower at the two year follow-up than women who had an average intake of soy.
Natural Remedies that May Help Lung Cancer
Some people use natural remedies in an effort to fight lung cancer or relieve symptoms associated with the disease. Always consult your doctor before putting your trust in any one remedy or “cure-all.” That being said, many of the principles behind natural remedies promote wellness and a healthier lifestyle, which is something everyone should strive for. It’s always a good idea to maintain a healthy body with daily exercise and a proper diet because it ensures the body is getting the vitamins it needs to reducr risk factors for lung cancer.
The goal with many natural remedies is to boost the immune system to help reduce the risk of cancer or alleviate symptoms. Some of the natural remedies commonly thought to promote these concepts include:
• Eating organic, plant-based foods
• Taking natural supplements and vitamins
• Drinking raw juices
Some natural remedies focus on detoxification by using a series of enemas to clean out the body’s digestive system. Some believe that this not only removes toxins from the body, but may also help relieve pressure on the liver, further boosting the immune system.
There are other popular natural remedies that many lung cancer sufferers use to battle depression, ease pain, alleviate side effects of treatment, or because it helps them clear their mind. Massage is very popular because not only does it help bring relief to aching joints, the personal touch is something often craved by those who have cancer.
Other popular natural remedies are acupuncture, meditation, counseling, hypnotherapy, herbal remedies and tinctures, and therapy. None of these remedies have devastating side effects, so they can be enjoyed whether a person has cancer or not. For those battling the disease, mental health often plays a key role in recovery and overall quality of life. This is especially important as patients spend time with family members and friends.
Many other natural remedies are thought to help prevent cancer, reduce risk factors, and possibly even aid recovery. Others are meant to help ease the symptoms and pain associated with the disease. There are endless websites that cover the topic of alternative treatments online, but be sure to talk to your doctor before attempting to use any natural remedy. You don’t want to do anything that would impede progress with prescribed treatment protocols.
Contact a member of the Causenta team today for help regarding lung cancer and its treatment.
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