Lung Cancer

What is lung cancer?


Your lungs are a pair of large organs in your chest. They are part of your respiratory system. Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up all tissues and organs of the body, including the lungs. Normal cells in the lungs and other parts of the body grow and divide to form new cells as they are needed. When normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body doesn’t need them, and old or damaged cells don’t die as they should. The build-up of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumour. Tumours in the lung can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous):

There are two types of lung cancer for which treatment options may vary:

  • Small cell: The cells of small cell lung cancer look small under a microscope.
  • Non-small cell: Most (about 7 of every 8) people diagnosed with lung cancer have non-small cell lung cancer.


What are the risk factors for lung cancer?

Examples of risk factors for lung cancer include smoking tobacco and being around others who smoke tobacco, exposures at home or at work (such as radon gas or asbestos) and family history of lung cancer.  As smoking is major risk factor for lung cancer, most people who get lung cancer were smokers.  Whether or not you were a smoker, it is important for you to protect your body now from smoke (including second hand smoke).  If you smoke, talk with an expert about quitting as it is never too late to quit.

What are the signs and symptoms of lung cancer?

Lung cancer typically doesn’t cause signs and symptoms in its earliest stages. Signs and symptoms of lung cancer typically occur only when the disease is advanced.

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer may include:

  • A new cough that doesn’t go away
  • Changes in a chronic cough or “smoker’s cough”
  • Coughing up blood, even a small amount
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Bone pain
  • Headache

How is lung cancer diagnosed?

Staging tests can show the stage (extent) of lung cancer, such as whether cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. When lung cancer spreads, cancer cells are often found in nearby lymph nodes. Lung cancer cells can spread from the lung to almost any other part of the body, such as the brain, bones, other lung, liver, or adrenal gland.

The stage of lung cancer depends mainly on the size of the lung cancer, how deeply the tumour has invaded nearby tissue, such as the chest wall and whether lung cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Staging tests may include:

  • CT scan: An X-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your chest, abdomen, brain, or other parts of your body.
  • Bone Scan: The scanner makes pictures of your bones. Because higher amounts of the radioactive substance collected in areas where cancer is present, the pictures can show cancer that has spread to the bones.

What are my treatment options?

The treatment that’s right for you depends mainly on the type and stage of lung cancer.

At any stage of lung cancer, care is available to control pain and manage breathing problems, to relieve the side effects or treatment, and to ease emotional concerns. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Surgery: Surgery may be an option for people with early-stage lung cancer. The surgeon usually removes only the part of the lung that contains cancer. Most people who have surgery for lung cancer will have the lobe of the lung that contains the cancer removed. This is lobectomy. In some cases, the surgeon will remove the tumour along with less tissue than an entire lobe, or the surgeon will remove the entire lung. The surgeon also removes nearby lymph nodes.

Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy is an option for people with any stage of lung cancer.

  • People with early lung cancer may choose radiation therapy instead of surgery.
  • After surgery, radiation therapy can be used to destroy any cancer cells that may remain
  • In advanced lung cancer, radiation therapy may be used with chemotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy can be used to help shrink a tumour that is blocking the airway.
  • Radiation therapy can be used to help relieve pain from lung cancer that has spread to the bones or other tissues.
  • Radiation therapy is often used to treat lung cancer that has spread to the brain.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be used alone, with radiation therapy, or after surgery.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs for lung cancer are usually given directly into a vein (intravenous) through a thin needle. The side effects depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, but the drugs can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly.  The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type and dose of drugs given and the length of the time they are taken. These side effects may include hair loss, mouth sores, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, lowered resistance to infection, easy bruising/bleeding and fatigue. Other possible side effects include hearing loss, joint pain, and tingling or numbness in your hands and feet. When radiation therapy and chemotherapy are given at the same time, the side effects may be worse.

” Courtesy of the Aga Khan Hospital”