How Can You Prevent Lung Cancer?   

How Can You Prevent Lung Cancer?

Start with yourself.
Stop smoking!

Lung cancer is highly preventable since most cases are tobacco-related. Educate yourself about lung cancer, and most importantly, how you can reduce your risk of this deadly disease.

Lung cancer is the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells in the lung. It can spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain, bone or liver. It is also the most common form of cancer particularly those aged 40 and above. And although lung cancer is the sixth most common cancer in females, it is on the rise.

Types of lung cancer
Lung cancer is divided into two main types:

Non-small cell lung cancer
1. The more common type of cancer, which consists of 80% of all lung cancer cases.
2. Tumours tend to grow and spread slowly in an orderly progression. This means the tumour may start in the lungs, proceed to nearby lymph nodes and eventually, to other organs in the body.
3. Examples include adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma.

Small cell lung cancer grows more rapidly and spreads to distant sites (organs) earlier compared to non-small cell lung cancer.

Stages of lung cancer
Stage 1 & 2 (localised) - During early stages, when the tumour is confined to the lungs
Stage 3 (loco-regional) - When the tumour has spread to nearby areas, such as the lymph nodes.
Stage 4 (metastatic) - When the tumour is widespread, affecting other parts of the body, such as the bone, brain or liver.

The main causes of lung cancer include:

87-90% of all cases of lung cancer are attributable to smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes. Harmful substances in tobacco (carcinogens) cause damage to cells in the lungs, which may become cancerous over time. Factors such as age, the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the number of years of smoking contribute to one's risk of developing lung cancer.

Second-hand smoke
Exposure to tobacco smoke in the environment, also known as passive smoking, can increase your risk of lung cancer.

Occupational exposure
This may include exposure to hazardous substances such as asbestos in the workplace.

Environmental pollution
Exposure to by-products of fossil fuels such as diesel, has also been partially linked to lung cancer.

Symptoms and treatment of lung cancer
According to a Consultant Clinical Oncologist, most cases of lung cancer generally present few or no early symptoms. As a result; detection is often late.

Only a lucky few patients are diagnosed early, and usually only through a routine assessment. Symptoms of lung cancer vary, depending on the location of the tumour, and may be non-specific [as listed below].
However, there are more common symptoms you can look out for, such as:
• shortness of breath
• chest pain
• coughing up blood
• persistent hoarseness of voice

Generalised symptoms not specific to lung cancer may include:
• loss of appetite
• reduction of weight
• low-grade fever
• sweating
• persistent feeling of thirst
• weakness in muscles

The survival of lung cancer patients depends on the stage they are at and the treatment they are receiving. For example, untreated Stage 4 patients have a survival rate that ranges between 3 to 9 months.

With treatment, a patient at Stage 1 of the disease has a 5-year survival rate of between 50-70%. The survival goes down to 25-40% for patients with Stage 2 of the disease, and 1% for Stage 4.

One important aspect of treatment is improving patient's quality of life. At Stage 4, the primary concern is not curative treatment but to add quality to the patient's remaining days. The newer drugs have either similar or more efficacy, but at the same time, they have minimal side effects. They can also be administered on an outpatient basis, so that they can spend more time at home with their family. Their symptoms, including the lack of appetite, also improve.

Early screening for all smokers?
Due to the nature of lung cancer and its late detection, some studies are ongoing to find out if there are screening procedures recommended to individuals who are not showing any symptoms of the disease, but at the highest risk for the disease - smokers.

Common "screening" procedures for lung cancer include:
1. lung X-ray
2. CT scan (computerised axial tomography)
3. sputum cytology (microscopic examination of cells from a sample of mucus in the lungs)

The limitation of a lung X-ray is that 20% of the lung may be hidden from sight. By the time you see anything off an ordinary X-ray, the tumour would be too large and the disease may already be in a later stage.

If any screening should be done at all, doctor recommends a CT scan as it produces detailed, cross-sectional images of the lung useful to detect a tumour at an earlier stage.

But none of the screening procedures have really proven their benefit. At the end of the day, it comes down to cost effectiveness. But, for any individual who smokes, the advice is to quit.

Preventive measures
As smoking is related to 90% of all lung cancer cases, the most important thing to do is, never start smoking. If you do, stop smoking or seek help so that you can quit.

Every now and then, we come across patients who are not smokers. Each type of cancer has many causes, and the key is to reduce your exposure to the risk factors as much as possible.


Happy reading,

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