What is lung cancer? Symptoms, causes and prevention
Lung cancer is an illness in which cells divide uncontrollably in the lungs, which causes lumps of tissues called tumours. Tumours can be benign or cancerous which may spread to other parts of the body. Though lung cancer is rare in people under 40 years old, it is one of the most common types of cancer. In fact, over 47,000 cases are diagnosed in the UK every year. Lung cancer is often, but not always, caused by smoking. This guide will explore lung cancer, highlighting the causes, symptoms and prevention/treatments available.
What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer refers to any type of cancer that affects the lungs. It is a condition causing cells to grow and reproduce uncontrollably in the body. These cells, called cancerous cells, destroy healthy cells and tissues (such as organs) as they develop and continue to spread. The process of spreading to different parts of the body, from where the cancer began originally, is referred to as metastasis. Primary lung cancer starts in the lungs, while secondary lung cancer is a cancer that has spread from another part of the body into the lungs.
There are two types of primary lung cancers:
- Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer. It represents an umbrella of lung cancers including carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large-cell carcinoma.
- Small-cell cancer usually only occurs in heavy smokers and spreads faster than its non-small cell counterpart.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
Lung cancer doesn’t always cause any symptoms in the early stages. However, lung cancer may produce a wide variety of symptoms including:
- A new cough that doesn’t clear in 2-3 weeks
- A long-standing cough that gets worse
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
- A chest infection that keeps coming back
- Unexplained weight loss
- Aches or pains when breathing/coughing
- Chest pain
It is essential to note that the symptoms abovementioned aren’t necessarily a sign of cancer. However, it is important that you see your GP to assess the cause of such symptoms as soon as possible as finding lung cancer early may make it easier to treat.
What are the causes of lung cancer?
Smoking is the commonest cause of lung cancer. Tobacco smoke contains carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) which damage lung tissues. Although the body may be able to repair the damage at first, repeated exposure to such substances will cause irreversible damage that can cause cells to become abnormal and eventually cancerous. This does not only apply to smokers but also to people who breathe in second-hand smoke.
Exposure to other harmful substances can also increase your risk of developing lung cancer. This includes exposure to radon gas, asbestos, and other carcinogens.
Additionally, having a family history of lung cancer can also increase your lung cancer risk.
How to prevent and treat lung cancer
As smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, never smoking is the single best thing you can do to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer. If you do smoke, stopping will decrease your risk. It is important to note that your risk of developing lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes you have smoked and how long you have been smoking for. However, quitting smoking can still substantially reduce your lung cancer risk.
Avoid second-hand smoke as this too is harmful Also make sure that you aren’t inhaling any other harmful substances such as asbestos and radon gas. Home surveys are available in radon affected areas of the UK and building works can be undertaken to reduce radon levels.
Treatment will depend on what stage the cancer is at (i.e. how advanced the condition is). Treatments may include one or more of the following:
- Surgery to remove part or all of a lung
- Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells with medicines
- Radiotherapy uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells.
- Radiofrequency ablation to destroy cancer cells with an electric current
- Immunotherapy helps your body fight cancerous cells
- Palliative therapy to help manage symptoms
How can I get screened for lung cancer?
At a clinic
At present we at Bluecrest do not offer a screening test for lung cancer. However, if you are a smoker, you can opt for our “Complete Health Assessment Package”, which includes a lung function check and give you a ‘lung age’.
Alternatively, our Cancer Awareness Health Assessments are available for those over 40 years old who would like to assess their risk of certain cancers, as well as include a lung function check. We offer a Female Cancer Risk Health Assessment for women, which estimates your risk of bowel, stomach and ovarian cancer. We also offer a Male Cancer risk Health Assessment for men, which includes a bowel, stomach and prostate cancer risk assessment.
Our packages consist of in-depth, face-to-face health checks with a Health Assessment Specialist, which you can easily book online at one of over 2,000 mobile clinics available nationwide. You will receive a wide array of other key health markers and a detailed results report sent through the post.