Lung Cancer Awareness to Guard Your Health

Lung cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers occurring worldwide, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 cancer deaths globally. In 2012, there were 1.8 million newly diagnosed lung cancer cases, claiming more lives annually than those diagnosed with breast, colon or prostate cancers combined.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the U.S., with 25% of all national cancer deaths attributed to this oftentimes silent disease, which is more likely diagnosed during late stage, making it a difficult disease to treat.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates 228,820 new lung cancer cases will occur this year in the U.S., affecting the health of 116,300 men and 112,520 women. ACS estimates that of those afflicted this year, 135,720 deaths will occur. Those likely to get lung cancer include those age 65 and older and especially those partaking in a heavy smoking habit (1 pack of cigarettes/day with a 30-year habit history or equivalent.)

With World Lung Cancer Day designated on August 1, your Capital Women’s Care team wants to share valuable information concerning awareness of lung cancer, its symptoms and risk factors, available screening and treatments, as well as what you can do to lower your lung cancer risk.  

Types of Lung Cancer

There are 2 types of lung cancer:

Non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) –comprise 80 to 85% of diagnosed lung cancers. There are 3 different types: 

  • squamous cell carcinoma (epidermoid carcinoma) -- forms in the thin, flat cells lining the inside of the lungs.
  • large cell carcinoma – begins in several kinds of large cells.
  • adenocarcinoma – begins in cells lining the lungs’ alveoli and creates substances like mucus.
  • other types of non-small cell lung cancer include pleomorphic, carcinoid tumor, salivary gland carcinoma and unclassified carcinoma.

Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) – comprise roughly 15% of diagnosed lung cancer. This is generally the most aggressive, fastest-progressing form. There are 2 different types, each named for the type of cells found within the cancer and how they appear via microscope:

  • small cell carcinoma (oat cell cancer)
  • and combined small cell carcinoma.

Men and women are equally susceptible to lung cancer, yet they are not equally susceptible to the same types.

Women facing lung cancer are more likely to present with adenocarcinoma over men.

Men are more likely to present with squamous cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung cancer afflicting smokers, than women.

The major difference between these lung cancer types is that adenocarcinoma is harder to detect, with those afflicted often not displaying symptoms until the disease’s latter stage.

Squamous cell lung cancer produces more symptoms and is easier to detect, offering greatest opportunity for early diagnosis and subsequently greatest survival rates. 

Once diagnosed, lung cancer offers no cure. However, understanding and controlling your exposure to lung cancer risk factors while avoiding all types of smoking habits and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle plus diet are the most effective means to reduce risk. 

Lung Cancer Risk Factors 

The most important risk factor for lung cancer is smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars, now or in the past. The more often or greater number of years a person smokes, the greater risk of lung cancer.  It is estimated that active smoking accounts for nearly 90% of all lung cancer diagnoses.

Other risk factors include:

  • exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • exposure to carcinogens, including asbestos, arsenic, chromium, beryllium, nickel, soot or tar while at work.
  • exposure to radiation via therapy to the chest/breast area; radon at home or at work; imaging tests (CT scans); and atomic bomb radiation.
  • exposure to air pollution.
  • having family history of lung cancer.
  • having HIV.
  • or taking beta carotene supplements while also being a heavy smoker.

Since there is no cure, it is critical to know lung cancer symptoms and signs to achieve earliest diagnosis and treatment for best disease management and quality of life.

Women and Smoking

Smoking affects men and women differently. There’s no understanding as to why women smokers are more likely than men smokers to:

  • develop small cell lung cancer
  • suffer DNA damage
  • and have less capacity to repair smoking damage.

Additionally, it’s not known why women nonsmokers are more likely than men to:

  • develop adenocarcinoma
  • receive a diagnosis at an earlier age
  • or be diagnosed with localized disease.

The best tact to decrease lung cancer risk for both men and women is to avoid active smoking altogether.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Roughly 25% of those diagnosed with lung cancer demonstrate no symptoms, with symptoms presenting only during advanced stages. Therefore, it is critical to be vigilant for these warning signs:

  • new cough that is continual
  • changes in a chronic cough or smoker’s cough
  • coughing produces blood
  • recurring bronchitis or pneumonia infections
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • wheezing
  • hoarseness
  • fatigue and weakness
  • loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • bone pain
  • headache
  • brown or yellowish mucus (especially in adenocarcinoma)
  • and swelling of face and/or neck.

Tests and Diagnosis

These tests and procedures are used to examine, diagnose and subsequently stage or classify lung cancer if its presence is confirmed:

  • Physical exam and/or health history -- an exam checks your general health, including looking for signs of disease. Your doctor will also ask you about your health habits, including smoking, past jobs (including potential exposure to carcinogens in the home or workplace) and other diagnosed illnesses and treatments.
  • Lab tests -- samples of tissue, blood, urine, among others help to diagnose disease, plan and check treatment, or monitor disease progression.

Thoracentesisis fluid removal from the space between the lining of the chest and the lung, using a needle. A pathologist examines the fluid via microscope for cancer cells.

Light and electron microscopy is a lab test where cells within a tissue sample are viewed under regular and high-powered microscopes to determine if certain cell changes occurred.

Immunohistochemistryis a lab test using antibodies to check for specific markers called antigens in a tissue sample. The antibodies are usually linked to an enzyme or fluorescent dye. After antibodies bind to a specific antigen within the tissue sample, the enzyme or dye becomes activated and the antigen can be viewed via microscope. This test helps diagnose and distinguish between types of cancer.

Sputum cytology examines mucus samples via microscope for abnormalities.

  • Chest x-ray and/or CT scan -- your doctor can combine these imaging tools of the chest and abdomen areas to create detailed, cross-sectional images to aid in identifying tumors, masses or nodules of the lungs.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends lung screening via CT scans yearly for those age 55-80 with:

  • at least a 30-year history of smoking 1 pack of cigarettes/day or equivalent (i.e. 2 packs/day for 15 years; 3 packs/day for 10 years, etc
  • those who currently smoke.
  • those who are exposed to known environmental lung cancer risk factors within the workplace.
  • and those who quit smoking within the past 15 years within this age bracket.

If the 8 million high-risk Americans receive lung cancer screening that means 25,000 lives could be saved in the U.S. alone. 

  • Biopsy – isused to determine malignancy should your doctor locate a tumor, nodule or mass. CT-guided fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsies draw tissue or cells to be examined by a pathologist. 
  • Bronchoscopy – is aprocedure to look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for abnormal areas. 

The branchio-scope, a thin, tube-like instrument with light and viewing lens, is inserted through the nose or mouth into the trachea and lungs. It may also have a tool to remove tissue samples, which are examined via microscope for signs of lung cancer.

  • Thoracoscopy – is a surgical procedure done to view organs within the chest for abnormalities. A thoracoscope, a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and viewing lens, is inserted into the chest after incision. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or samples from lymph nodes, which are then examined via microscope for signs of cancer.

In some instances, this procedure is used to remove part of the esophagus or lung.

If certain tissues, organs, or lymph nodes aren’t accessible, a thoracotomy may be done, where a larger incision is made between the ribs, opening the chest.

  • Mediastinoscopy – is a surgical procedure to view the organs, tissues, and lymph nodes between the lungs for abnormalities. A mediastinoscope, a thin, tube-like instrument with light and viewing lens, is inserted into the breastbone area after incision. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples which are then checked via microscope. 

Treatment Options 

If lung cancer is confirmed, there are several disease management treatment options. Your doctor determines treatment based on how advanced the detected cancer is, the number of tumors present and if it spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other areas within the body.

Treatment options may include one or a combination of the following:

  • Surgery – can remove the entire lung (pneumonectomy); a lobe of lung (lobectomy) or wedge-shaped section of lung tissue.
  • Radiofrequency ablation – uses heat from radio waves on small cancerous tumors to destroy them.
  • Radiation therapy – is used in conjunction with other treatments to shrink tumors that cannot be surgically removed to help relieve pain and other symptoms or to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery.
  • Chemotherapy – kills fast-growing cells (both cancerous and healthy types) which may lead to nausea, low blood cell counts and hair loss.
  • Targeted therapy – works against cancers displaying certain characteristics like those interfering with signaling pathways regulating cell growth. While targeted therapy is often more tolerable than chemotherapy, the cancer may eventually become immune, resisting treatment.
  • Immunotherapy – is the newest advance in lung cancer treatment, helping the body fight cancer checkpoint inhibitors to restore the body’s cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

The Capital Women’s Care team is here for you and your family should you have questions or concerns about lung cancer risks, eliminating a smoking habit and determining if annual lung cancer screening should be implemented within your personal health and wellness plan.


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The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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