Lung Cancer

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What is it?

Lung cancer is one of the most prominent kinds of cancer in North America, causing the most deaths in both men and women. It also happens to be more preventable than most kinds of cancers. Lung cancer happens when the tissue cells in the lungs grow rapidly and uncontrollably. There are two main forms of cancer that occurs in the lungs, small-cell lung carcinoma and non-small-cell lung carcinoma. If the cancer goes untreated, metastasis can occur and the cancer may spread quickly to other parts of the body.

Causes

The most common cause of lung cancer is smoking cigarettes, with approximately 80% of cases occurring in smokers. There are a large number of carcinogens contained in cigarettes, and the nicotine also decreases the ability for the immune system to stop malignant growth.

Non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke are also at high risk for lung cancer, and some research may even suggest that it is a greater risk than smoking directly. For information on the effects and risks of second-hand smoke, visit WebMD. There are several other causes for lung cancer in addition to smoking. Radon gas is a common cause, and is prevalent throughout the world. Asbestos is another airborne cause that is common in workplaces. Air pollution can also be a factor, as can genetics, x-rays or even inhalation of diesel engine exhaust.

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Symptoms

There are many common symptoms of lung cancer, though early on there are often no clear signs according to WebMD. Chronic cough, often rough or hoarse, is common of lung cancer and can be accompanied by blood. The recurrence of various respiratory problems or infections is also a telltale sign. Feeling fatigued or out of breath often can be an indicator as well. Many of the symptoms start to show up when the airways begin to be blocked by the cancer as it spreads. Other symptoms are not related to the lungs themselves, such as loss of appetite or unintentional weight loss, and may not be specific to lung cancer.

Diagnosis

Lung cancer is not easily diagnosed, since many symptoms don’t show up until later. If certain conditions are discovered in a physical, such as swollen lymph nodes, strange sounds in the lungs or rounded fingernails, then lung cancer could be present. Lung cancer can spread quickly to other parts of the body, and can usually be discovered elsewhere first. If it is apparent that it started in the lungs, however, it is still diagnosed as lung cancer. WebMD notes that lung cancer can be seen in chest X-rays once symptoms start to occur. A biopsy of the lung is usually necessary to confirm lung cancer. There are then other tests needed to see what types of cancers are present and how developed they are.

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Treatment

Lung cancer can be treated in a variety of ways. The most preferred method of treatment is direct surgery if it is caught early enough. However, if it has spread too much then surgery will not be effective and other methods must be used. Radiotherapy, which is used to treat many types of cancer, can be a reasonably effective alternative to surgery. It can be done externally with a machine or internally by putting materials into the affected area of the body that produce radiation. Chemotherapy commonly accompanies radiotherapy, and there are many types of drugs that help treat lung cancer. Pain medication, while not directly curative, is often used to ease the pain of lung cancer. An in depth look at these various methods of treatment can be found on WebMD.