Lung cancer is an abnormal growth in the tissues of the lung. When you breathe in, air goes down your trachea (windpipe), and into the lungs, where it spreads through tubes called bronchi (air passages). Most lung cancer begins in the cells that line these tubes.
There are 2 main types of lung cancer:
- Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer
- Small cell lung cancer is less common, but spreads quickly to other parts of the body through the blood
The main cause of lung cancer is tobacco smoke (cigarettes, pipes, or cigars), although not everyone who smokes will get lung cancer. Harmful substances in tobacco smoke damage the lung cells. Inhaling second-hand smoke from people smoking nearby can also cause lung cancer in some people who do not smoke.
You may also be at risk for lung cancer if you:
- Are older than 40 years – most people are older than 65 years when they are diagnosed with lung cancer
- Have contact with some substances such as radon (a radioactive gas), asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel and air pollution
- Have family members who have had lung cancer
Early lung cancer often does not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, you may experience the following symptoms:
- A cough that gets worse or does not go away
- Breathing difficulty such as being short of breath
- Constant chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- A hoarse voice
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Frequent lung infections, such as pneumonia
- Weight loss without a cause
Other health problems can also cause these symptoms, but you should see your doctor if you experience these symptoms.
How is Lung Cancer detected?
Early detection of lung cancer can be achieved through imaging tests such as chest x-rays during routine health screening, which can reveal abnormal masses or nodules. For patients who are at-risk, or showing symptoms, an additional computerised tomography (CT) scan can be used to reveal small lesions that may not be shown on an x-ray.
Nodules and masses found on x-ray and CT scans may not necessarily be cancerous. When abnormal masses or nodules are found during imaging tests, a bronchoscopy may be used for a more accurate diagnosis. This is a test where a special flexible lighted tube is inserted down the throat into the lungs to allow the doctor to see the nodules up close. The same tube can also be used to perform a biopsy and remove a sample of the tissue cells for laboratory testing.
There are 4 main treatments for lung cancer:
- Surgery to remove the tumour and some lymph nodes (glands)
- Chemotherapy to shrink or kill the cancer
- Radiation therapy (high-energy x-rays) to kill the cancer cells
- Targeted therapy to block the growth and spread of cancer cells
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