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Saturday, 14 December 2013 20:20

Lung Cancer Screening and Prevention

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer occurs when cells in the lung grow out of control and form a mass. Nearly 90% of lung cancers start in the lining of air passages or air sacs. Air passages are tubes called bronchi (main tubes) and bronchioles (smaller tubes). Air sacs (alveoli) are at the ends of the tubes.

Lung cancer is usually divided into two types: non-small cell and small cell.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer among both men and women. Every year, more than 170,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States.

What Causes Lung Cancer?

Almost 90% of lung cancers occur among smokers or former smokers. Therefore use of tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, pipes) is the main cause.

Other causes include exposure to asbestos (especially for smokers), radon and radiation, and secondhand smoke (other peoples' smoke).

What are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

Some people may have no symptoms until the cancer is advanced.

In others, symptoms include a cough that doesn't go away, coughing up bloody phlegm, shortness of breath, wheezing, continuing problems with pneumonia, tiredness, difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite, and weight loss.

A tumour may press on a large blood vessel, which causes swelling of the face and neck (called superior vena cava syndrome). 

A tumour pressing on nerves near the lung can lead to pain in the shoulder, arm and hand (called Pancoast's tumour).

Some types of lung cancer can produce certain chemicals (hormones) that lead to abnormal blood test results, such as high calcium level; weakness; and other problems (e.g., Lambert-Eaton syndrome, clubbing of fingers or toes, and syndrome of inappropriate secretion of antidiuretic hormone [SIADH]).

How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

Early diagnosis can be hard because people may have no symptoms until the cancer is advanced. In these people, a tumour may be found on a routine chest x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan.

The only sure way to diagnose lung cancer is by taking and studying a sample of lung tissue (biopsy) or fluid from the lungs that contains cancer cells.

The doctor gets these samples in different ways, depending on the location of the problem area. One technique is bronchoscopy, or examination with a lighted scope (a thin, flexible tube) that passes through the mouth into the air passages. If this method doesn't work, needle aspiration can be done. In this procedure, a needle is passed through the chest into the tumour to get the cells.

Sometimes, the space surrounding the lungs has fluid in it. This fluid can be removed with a needle (thoracentesis) to check for cancer cells.

If none of these techniques works, surgery (thoracotomy) can be done to open the chest and get tissue samples directly.

DOs and DON'Ts in Preventing Lung Cancer:

  • DO understand the effects of smoking and its major role in causing lung cancer.
  • DO eat a healthy diet, including fruits and vegetables.
  • DO avoid exposure to hazards such as radon and air pollution.
  • DON'T smoke - the most important lifestyle change.
  • DON'T ignore signs of lung cancer such as persistent cough or bloody phlegm. Early diagnosis is important.

For more information, see the attachments below.

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