Facts change from country to country – but these stats will give you an indication of how widespread this disease is:
- Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, accounting for 2.09 million new cases every ear and 1.76 deaths in 2018.
- Lung cancer is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 global cancer deaths (18.3 percent of the total)
- The highest estimated rates of lung cancer are in Northern America (33.8) and Northern Europe (23.7), with a relatively high rate in Eastern Asia (19.2), and the lowest rates in Western and Middle Africa (1.1 and 0.8 respectively)
- Lung cancer risk factors include smoking, passive exposure to tobacco smoke, biomass fuels, diesel exhaust, radon, asbestos and other environmental and workplace carcinogens
- It has been estimated that 1.7 percent of lung cancers up to the age of 68 are hereditary. The average age for lung cancer at the current time is 71
- Lung cancer has a five-year survival rate (17.7 percent) which is lower than many other leading cancer sites, such as the colon (64.4 percent), breast (89.7 percent) and prostate (98.9 percent)
The best way to help reduce your risk of lung cancer
Stop Smoking - The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is not to smoke and to avoid breathing in other people’s smoke.
If you stop smoking before cancer develops, your damaged lung tissue gradually starts to repair itself. No matter what your age or how long you've smoked, quitting may lower your risk of lung cancer and help you live longer.
Eat healthily - Some evidence suggests that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may help protect against lung cancer in both smokers and non-smokers. But any positive effect of fruits and vegetables on lung cancer risk would be much less than the increased risk from smoking.
Get your home tested for radon - We all breathe in radon every day, usually at very low levels. However, some houses, where radon is present in the ground, can have dangerously high levels. If you are worried you can have your home tested and treated if necessary.
Follow health & safety procedures in the workplace - Do you work in a job where cancer-causing chemicals are used? If you do, your employer should give you a full health & safety briefing along with all the necessary equipment and clothing to reduce your risk.
Take regular exercise - Physical activity may reduce the risk of lung cancer in current and former smokers. One study showed that people with a high level of physical activity were 23% less likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than women with a low physical activity level.
Lung cancer begins in the lungs and may spread to lymph nodes or other organs in the body, such as the brain. Conversely, cancer from other organs may spread to the lungs.
Unfortunately, symptoms usually don’t appear until the disease is already at an advanced stage. Even if lung cancer does cause symptoms, many people mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or long-term effects from smoking, which delays diagnosis.
The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak
- Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
- New onset of wheezing
If lung cancer spreads to distant organs, it may cause:
- Bone pain (like pain in the back or hips)
- Nervous system changes (such as headache, weakness or numbness of an arm or leg, dizziness, balance problems, or seizures), from cancer spread to the brain or spinal cord
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), from cancer spread to the liver
- Lumps near the surface of the body, due to cancer spreading to the skin or lymph nodes (collections of immune system cells), such as those in the neck or above the collarbone
Although most of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by something other than lung cancer, if you have any of these problems it’s important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated.
Screening programs differ widely from country to country – so check out what's available where you live online.
In the US - The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends yearly lung cancer screening with LDCT scans for current and ex-smokers with a 30 pack a year history, aged 55 to 74 years old, are in fairly good health.
In the UK - There is currently no nationwide screen program for lung cancer in the UK. However, in February 2019 the NHS announced that it would be trialing mobile lung cancer scanning facilities in 10 areas with the highest death rates from lung cancer. Those most at risk will be invited to attend an MOT appointment for their lungs and an on the spot chest scan. If successful the plan is to phase it in across the entire country.
Tests used to look for lung cancer may includes:
Sputum cytology - a sample of mucus you cough up from the lungs (sputum) is looked at under a microscope to see if it contains cancer cells. The best way to do this is to get early morning samples from you 3 days in a row.
Chest x-ray - if you have symptoms that might be due to lung cancer, this is often the first test your doctor will do. Plain x-rays of your chest can be done at imaging centers, hospitals, and even in some doctors’ offices. If something suspicious is seen, your doctor may order more tests.
Computed tomography (CT) scan - uses x-rays to make detailed cross-sectional images of your body. Instead of taking one picture, like a regular x-ray, a CT scanner takes many pictures as it rotates around you while you lie on a table. A computer then combines these pictures into images of slices of the part of your body being studied.
MRI Scan - produces images that allow doctors to see the location of a lung tumor and/or lung cancer metastases and measure the tumor’s size. An MRI uses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to produce detailed images of the body.
You may also undergo a procedure to collect tissue and fluids to test for lung cancer:
- Biopsy - the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope
- Bronchoscopy - a thin, flexible tube with a light on the end is passed into the mouth or nose, down through the main windpipe, and into the breathing passages of the lungs
- Needle aspiration/core biopsy - a needle is used to remove a sample of tissue
- Thoracentesis - is when a needle is inserted through the chest wall and into the space between the lung and the wall of the chest to collect and test fluid
- Thoracoscopy - a special instrument and a small video camera is inserted onto a a small cut in the skin of the chest wall
There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. The name refers to what the cancer cells look like under a microscope - non-small cell lung cancer being the more common.
If lung cancer is diagnosed, other tests are carried out to find out how far it has spread through the lungs, lymph nodes, and the rest of the body. The type and stage of lung cancer tell doctors what kind of treatment you need.
Lung cancer is treated in several ways, depending on the type of lung cancer and how far it has spread. People with non-small cell lung cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy or a combination of these treatments.
People with small cell lung cancer are usually treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
- Surgery cuts out the cancer tissue.
- Chemotherapy shrinks or kills the cancer
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer
- Targeted therapy uses drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells
- Immunotherapy is the use of medicines to stimulate a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively – for more information read our blog How Cancer Immunotherapy revolutionizing cancer treatment?
If you are diagnosed with lung cancer don’t despair; treatments have advanced in the last few years. Stephen Harrow is a consultant clinical oncologist and lead clinician for radiotherapy research at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre.
“Lung cancer is not as hopeless a diagnosis as it was even a few years ago,” Stephen explains. “We have access to brand new specialized radiotherapy equipment that has enabled us to develop and implement techniques to treat lung cancer more aggressively where previously we may only have been able to offer palliative treatment.”
If you’re fighting lung cancer, please share your thoughts and experiences within the Chemotherapy Support Group. You’ll find thousands of extremely supportive people, who understand exactly what you are going through - because they've been there themselves.
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