There are many reasons why lung cancer spreads so fast unnoticed. One of the major reason is because lung cancer is usually undetected in its early stages. During this stage, the cancer cells can easily spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or blood circulatory system. As a matter of fact, the blood vessels spread more cancer cells faster than the lymphatic system and this seems to be the more preferred route for lung cancer spreading at the early stages.
This article discusses in brief some lung cancer facts as well as how lung cancer develops. Understanding this should inform on why you need to protect yourself from those preventable things that can damage your lungs. In addition, it will help you see reasons why you should seek early medical attention if you feel something might not be going right with your body system.
Quick Facts of Lung Cancer
- Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in both men and women worldwide.
- Cigarette smoking is the principal risk factor for development of lung cancer.
- Passive exposure to tobacco smoke ( passive smoking ) can also cause lung cancer.
- The two types of lung cancer, which grow and spread differently, are small cell lung cancers (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC).
- Treatment of lung cancer can involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy as well as newer experimental methods.
- The general prognosis of lung cancer is poor because doctors tend not to find the disease until it is at an advanced stage.
- Five-year survival is around 54% for early stage lung cancer that is localized to the lung, but only around 4% in advanced, inoperable lung cancer.
- Smoking cessation is the most important measure that can prevent the development of lung cancer.
Understanding Lung Cancer
Lung cancer remains the highest cause of cancer-related deaths world wide. It is very life threatening and does not give its victims a good survival chance. In many countries, the incidence of lung cancer has been shown to be more than other cancers including breast cancer. This is primarily due to its direct link to cigarette smoking which remains a challenge to combat in almost every country.
In developing countries however, recent studies show a slight decrease in the incidence of lung cancer in the recent decades. This is attributed to the massive public education about the dangers of cigarette smoking and introduction of effective smoking-cessation programmes.
Lung cancer affects both men and women but it is predominantly a disease of the elderly. Almost 70% of people diagnosed with lung cancer are over 65 years old. Only less than 3% are under the age of 45. This makes the mean age of diagnosing lung cancer to be 70 years.
The body has a natural mechanism for controlling how the cells in the body divides or proliferate. Sometimes, when something goes wrong with that natural mechanism, the body cells can start dividing on their own unchecked and this can form a mass which is what is referred to as “cancer” or “tumour“. This can happen in any part of the body and the naming of the cancer is based on the site where the abnormal cells have grown.
How Lung Cancer develops
In some cases, the abnormal cells can travel from where they formed to other nearby or distant organs in the body through the lymphatic system and blood vessels. This travelling or spreading of cancer cells to other areas of the body is called “metastasis.” A malignant cancer is one in which the cancer cells can spread to other body parts, which makes treatment very difficult. A benign cancer is one in which the cancer cells does not spread to other parts. They are more easily treated with very good survival rates.
Lung cancer is a malignant cancer and develops when abnormal cells starts growing in the lungs. The lungs is the organ for gaseous exchange and comprises of small sacs called “alveolar” where cancer cells can develop or settle down after spreading from other areas. 90 – 95% of lung cancer however, have been shown to develop from the bronchioles (which are like branches inside the lungs). Lung cancer cells spread mostly to the bones, brains and adrenal glands through the blood and lymphatic system.
Apart from tobacco smoking, which is the leading risk factor for lung cancer, other risk factors include
- Passive smoking (inhaling the cigarette smoke from other smokers).
- Work exposure to asbestos fibre.
- Exposure to radon gas.
- A family history of lung cancer.
- Other lung diseases like pulmonary fibrosis, Tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Air pollution in industralized areas.
- Exposure to diesel exhaust.
You should avoid these risk factors as much as you can in order to protect yourself from lung cancer.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
Lung cancer doesn’t usually come with symptoms at its early stages. But if, they do appear, they may include the following :
- Persistent cough that worsens, or a change in an existing chronic cough.
- Cough that produces blood.
- Chest pain, back pain, or shoulder pain that worsens when you cough, laugh or take deep breaths.
- Shortness of breath when going about your normal everyday activities.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Tiredness and weakness.
- Loss of appetite.
- Hoarseness or wheezing.
- Having other lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia that won’t go away.
- Swelling in the face or neck.
- Difficulty or pain swallowing
- Changes in the appearance of fingers, called finger clubbing
It’s important to see a doctor when you have any of these symptoms for proper diagnosis of lung cancer. Discovering lung cancer early may mean more treatment options are available.