Lung cancer is considered the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Last year, an estimated 28,600 Canadians were diagnosed with lung cancer – with over 21,000 dying from the deadly disease. On average, an estimated 78 Canadians are diagnosed with lung cancer each day. To raise awareness surrounding the many challenges that can come from a life-altering diagnosis such as lung cancer, as well as to provide support for individuals, their families and caregivers, November is recognized as Lung Cancer Awareness Month. As part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, communities will often hold special events and fundraisers, with money raised going toward continued cancer research.
There are two different types of lung cancer, which are dependent on the type of cell in which the cancer first initiated. Non-small cell lung cancer, for example, typically starts in the glandular cells which are located on the outer part of the lung. This is referred to as adenocarcinoma. Non-small cell lung cancer can also start in the squamous cells, which are thin and flat, and line the airways (also known as the bronchi) that brand off from the trachea and into the lungs. This is referred to as squamous cell carcinoma. Other types of non-small cell lung cancers include sarcoma and sarcomatoid carcinoma; and, less commonly, large cell carcinoma. Then there is small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer typically starts in the centre of the lungs and consists of small cell carcinoma or combined cell carcinoma, which is mixed with squamous and/or glandular cells. There are other types of cancer that can spread from other areas of the body and into the lungs, which is referred to as lung metastasis, or a rare type of cancer known as pleural mesothelioma. However, these types of cancers differ from primary lung cancer.
The lungs are also divided into different sections. The left lung, which has 2 different lobes (upper and lower); and the right lung, which has 3 different lobes (upper, middle and lower.) The right lung is also slightly larger in size than the left. You can learn more about lung anatomy by visiting Physiopedia.
The prognosis for individuals diagnosed with lung cancer depends on the type of cancer that they have been diagnosed with and the stage that it is in. Things like age, gender, race, lifestyle habits, and how well they respond to treatment as well as whether or not there are any complications associated with their diagnosis can also determine the prognosis. However, the survival rate for non-small cell lung cancer with all stages combined is around 18%, while the survival rate for small cell lung cancer is only around 6%. In order to have a good prognosis, it is crucial for patients to go for regular check-ups with their family physician, as early detection is key. The earlier that cancer is detected, the better the chances are that treatment will be successful. Part of early detection also means being able to recognize the symptoms associated with lung cancer, which include the following:
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Coughing up blood
• Recurring infections (such as pneumonia or bronchitis)
• Voice changes (such as hoarseness)
• Trouble swallowing
• Buildup of fluid around the lungs
• Collapsed lung
• Bone pain
• Weight loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, then it’s important you address them with your family physician – especially if they persist or start to worsen over time. In order to get a firm diagnosis of lung cancer, physicians will often send patients for a series of tests, including blood work, medical imaging tests such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI, as well as a possible biopsy procedure so that lung tissue can be tested in a lab, and sputum tests. If it is determined that you do have lung cancer, treatment options may vary depending on the stage. These options can include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and even surgery.