What is Cancer?
Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body, and lung cancer is the same condition in one or both lungs.
Because these cells are abnormal, they cannot function properly or develop healthy lung tissue. Furthermore, as the cells multiply, they can form into tumors, which interfere with the lung’s process of providing oxygen to the body through the blood.
Our body is composed of millions of cells, which contain DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). As the cells become more mature, they split into two new cells, which should be exact replicas of one another. Cancer occurs when two cells split and they don’t match one another exactly, thus forming a mutation of the cell’s DNA.
What Causes these DNA mutations?
These changes in the cell’s DNA can come from normal aging of the body, inhaling dangerous things such as asbestos, or cigarette smoke, and exposure to radon gas.
Some cells are called pre-cancerous, when they have some mutations, but can still function normally in the lungs.
Primary vs. Secondary Lung Cancer
Primary lung cancer is when cancer originates in the lungs and secondary lung cancer is when cancer originates somewhere else in the body and then travels (metastasizes) to the lungs.
This affects how the cancer is treated, because if it travelled from a different part of the body to the lungs, it would be treated differently than if it were simply primary lung cancer.
- Changes in voice or being hoarse
- Coughing up phlegm or blood
- Each breath makes a harsh sound
- Pain in the shoulder, chest, and back
- Persistent coughing
- Recurrent pneumonia or bronchitis
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Other Parts of the Body
- Bleeding and blood clots
- Bones fracturing at random, not resulting from injury
- Face and neck swelling
- Headaches, along with pain in bone or joints
- Muscle wasting
- Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
Diagnosing Lung Cancer
If you or your doctor suspects lung cancer, then the doctor will take a small tissue sample from your lungs (biopsy). This can be done with a small needle passed into the lungs to get a tissue sample, or through a bronchoscopy, where a doctor inserts a small tube through your mouth, into your lungs, and it has a small light on the end so the doctor can see the lungs as well as remove a tissue sample.
Treating Lung Cancer
Depending on the degree and severity of the cancer, there are several different treatments and combinations of treatments.
Surgery – Surgery will take place if lung cancer is more severe, and tumors have formed. In this case, the tumors will be removed surgically.
Chemotherapy – If someone has later stages of lung cancer and tumors have already been removed, then chemotherapy can be used as a preventative therapy. Chemotherapy is a combination of drugs that are inserted into the body through IV’s. In cases where the tumor has not yet been removed, chemotherapy can help to shrink the tumor.
Radiation – Radiation is typically performed, in conjunction with chemotherapy, on patients whose tumors are so large that they cannot be removed. This would be stage III lung cancer.
Chemotherapy Treatment Side Effects
Side effects are based on how long you have been treated and which treatments you had.
- Chemobrain -not feeling as mentally alert as usual, struggle with memory and concentration
- Blood clots
- Diarrhea – Two or more loose bowel movements per day
- Fatigue – This is the most common side effect of cancer treatment
- Hair loss – This occurs from chemo treatments as they weaken hair follicles
- Issues in the mouth – dry mouth, tooth decay, and mouth sores
- Nausea and vomiting – These can be managed well from medication
- Pain in the bone and weaker bones
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