What is Lung Cancer?

Lung Cancer | Dr. Ali Ghahary

An estimated 206,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in Canada last year, with lung cancer being atop the list alongside breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. Lung cancer is responsible for over 1 million deaths worldwide each year.

Lung cancer is defined as an uncontrolled and abnormal growth of cells that line the air passages, rather than developing into healthy lung tissue. This can occur in one or both of your lungs. These growths can develop rapidly and form what’s known as tumours – which can be either malignant or benign. Benign tumours are tumours that remain in one area and do not spread. Malignant tumours are considered more dangerous as they can spread to other areas of the body via the lymphatic system or bloodstream, and are much more difficult to treat.

Who Gets Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer can develop in any individual, though it generally affects more men than women. The chance of a male being diagnosed with lung cancer is 1 in 15, while the chance for women is 1 in 17. Lung cancer typically develops in individuals aged 65 or older, with the average age of diagnosis being 70. Rarely, lung cancer can also affect individuals below the age of 45.

Risk Factors

There are many risk factors that play a part in how and why someone might develop lung cancer. A large number of individuals diagnosed with lung cancer will have developed it as a result of smoking – in fact, as many as 90% of lung cancer cases are a direct result of tobacco use. You can find more information on the harmful effects of smoking from Dr. Ali Ghahary by clicking here. As mentioned, those of a certain age and gender are also at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. Lung cancer can also occur as a result of occupational exposures, such as asbestos.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

The symptoms of lung cancer can vary depending on the stage it is in, though lung cancer typically causes respiratory problems. Theses respiratory symptoms include intense and persistent coughing, pain in the chest while coughing, discoloured mucus, trouble breathing, trouble swallowing, hoarse voice, chronic bronchitis, chronic pneumonia, as well as coughing up blood. You may also develop enlarged lymph nodes. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, such as the brain, you can also develop headaches, vertigo or seizures. Other common symptoms of lung cancer also include fever, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue.

Diagnosing Lung Cancer

In order to diagnose lung cancer, Dr. Ali Ghahary will refer patients for chest x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans and/or PET scans. Lung cancer can also be diagnosed by performing a bronchoscopy. A bronchoscopy is performed by inserting a thin tube with a camera on the end of it into your mouth or nose and through your windpipe, allowing for a better look at your lungs. If lung cancer is referred, Dr. Ali Ghahary will refer patients to an oncologist. An oncologist will be able to determine the stage of the cancer as well as recommend any necessary treatment.

Treating Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is typically treated with radiation and chemotherapy – sometimes on their own or together. Radiation works by destroying and/or shrinking the tumours by aiming high-energy gamma-rays at the cancer cells, causing damage to their molecules. Chemotherapy, often given intravenously, is a mix of strong chemicals that disrupt how division process of the cells and damaged their proteins and DNA. Common side-effects associated with both radiation and chemotherapy treatments include nausea, vomiting, hair loss and fatigue.

For more information on lung cancer, visit lung.ca and follow Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter at @DrAliGhahary.