Ref: Australian Lung Foundation
Lung cancer is an abnormality in the cells of the lung and usually starts in the lining of an airway. There are different types of lung cancer, which are classified according to the type of cell affected.
The three types are:
Malignant mesothelioma is cancer of the cells of the pleural membrane around the lungs.
*Ref: Cancer Council
Smoking causes up to 90% of lung cancers and about 1/10 of people who smoke develop lung cancer. Lung cancer is not usually seen in people under 40 years old, but risk increases significantly for people aged 50 and older.
If a person starts smoking when they are young, they are at a higher risk of getting lung cancer.
Passive (secondhand) tobacco smoke can cause lung cancer, but the risks are less than if you smoke.
Exposure to the following is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer:
Common symptoms of lung cancer include:
Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:
Your doctor will first ask you about your past and current health, smoking and work history, and do a physical examination. They may suggest that you have some of the following tests.
Chest x-ray – An x-ray of the chest can find cancers as small as 1 cm.
Sputum cytology – testing your phlegm for abnormal cells
Bronchoscopy – a telescope is inserted into your nose/mouth to take a sample of tissue for analysis.
Fine-needle aspiration – This allows the doctor to take a sample of tissue from a lump that cannot be sampled using bronchoscopy.
Mediastinoscopy – In this test, the doctor is able to look at lymph nodes in the centre of the chest, to see if they are affected by cancer. The procedure is similar to bronchoscopy, but the tube is inserted through a cut in the neck and fed down to the lymph nodes around the windpipe.
Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery – This test allows the doctor to see inside the chest and take tissue samples if necessary. Instruments are inserted into the chest cavity through small cuts in the skin.
Computerised tomography (CT) scan – A CT scan is a type of x-ray that gives a cross-sectional picture of organs and other structures (including any tumours) in your body. It can be used to see smaller cancers than those found by x-rays. It can also show if lymph nodes are enlarged or if the cancer has spread to other organs.
The above tests will help the doctor determine whether you have cancer. They will also show where the primary cancer is and whether the cancer cells have spread to other parts of your body. This helps your doctors ‘stage’ the disease.
‘Stage’ describes the extent of the cancer in your body. It helps show which treatment is needed. It is also a guide to prognosis.
Small cell lung cancer has often spread outside the chest when it is diagnosed.
It is staged in two ways:
Staging non-small cell lung cancer is more complex. The following is a simplified guide to staging this condition:
Ref: Cancer Council Australia
The main treatments for this type of lung cancer are:
The choice of treatment will depend on the stage of your cancer, your general health, whether you are fit enough to have an anaesthetic and operation, and whether your lungs are working well enough.
The aim of treatment is to keep you as well and symptom-free as possible, even if your cancer cannot be cured.
This is the main message for lung cancer prevention so we’ll repeat it – do not smoke! This is what it does to your lungs:
Comparison of a Normal Lung (left) versus a Smoker’s lung (right)
Avoiding smoking will not only significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer, but also the risk of a number of other cancers and chronic diseases.
There are a number of ways to help people quit smoking, including nicotine replacement therapy, courses and pharmacological aids. Support from family and friends can make a big difference, as can sound advice from a health professional or the Quitline. Most smokers prefer to quit on their own, with 90 per cent of smokers successfully quitting without aids. However, many smokers may make several attempts to quit before succeeding. The key is to have a good plan, keep trying and to learn from previous attempts.
For more advice on quitting, call the Quitline on 13 18 48 or talk to your GP.