It’s August 1st and you know what that means: it’s World Lung Cancer Day in Pittsburgh. If you are here it means you want to be aware of lung cancer, which is a very important thing, so I’m going to tell you about it. We will go through the types of lung cancer, the symptoms/signs, the risks, prevention, treatment, questions to ask, and life after treatment.
NSCLA and SCLC
Lung cancer is a cancer that starts in your lungs, usually just one lung. However it can move and spread to other parts of your body, including your lymph nodes, brain, and your second lung. There are also two types of lung cancer—non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC).
Lung cancer is the most fatal type of cancer in the world so it is best to be aware of it any everything about it. In November it will be especially big because that is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, so look for article about it in November as well to educate yourself!
These are the two types of lung cancer, as mentioned above: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). NSCLC is the most common type of lunch cancer as 80-85% of people who have lung cancer have NSCLC. You get this cancer usually from either currently smoking or if you formerly smoked. If you are a woman who smokes or formerly smoked it is more likely for you to get it since it is more common in women!
SCLC is less common as only 10-15% of people who have lung cancer have this type. SCLC is also called oat cell cancer. This cancer grows and spreads faster than NSCLC so 70% of cases have found that the cancer spread to other parts of the body before it was even diagnosed. This cancer responds well to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but we’ll talk more about treatment later on in this article.
These two types of lung cancer have separate surveil rates as well. There are three different categories of survival rates: localized, regional, and distant. Localized in when the cancer has not spread outside of the lung. Regional is when the cancer has spread to a nearby structure or the lymph nodes. And distant is where the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body: brain, bones, liver, etc.
Here is a chart of the survival rates for both NSCLC and SCLC.
Now we will talk about symptoms/signs of lung cancer. Remember that the two types of cancers above may have their own separate symptoms and that you’ll have other types of symptoms is the cancer has spread to other areas. Here are the common symptoms and signs of lung cancer:
- Coughing that gets worse or doesn’t go away
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Tried all the time
- Weight loss
- Coughing up blood
- Loss of appetite
- Repeated cases of pneumonia and swollen lymph nodes in chest
If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body you might experience some of these signs and symptoms:
- Bone pain
- Numbness or weakness in arms or legs
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
If you are experiencing these symptoms talk to your doctor.
Risks and Prevention
Next up is the risks. The biggest risk is currently smoking or formerly smoking, as well as second-hand smoke. This is the main cause of lung cancer. Here are some other risks of getting lung cancer:
- Exposure to radon (a naturally occurring radioactive gas)
- Exposure to asbestos
- Exposure to cancer-causing agents at work
- Included radioactive ores, inhaled chemical, and diesel exhaust
- Arsenic in the drinking water
These are the most common risks of lung cancer. It can also be cause by genes. So check with your doctor if you have a history of lung cancer in your family or if you have any of the other risks. Now that you know the risks I’m sure you would like to know about how to prevent lung cancer.
Basically there are only two ways to prevent lung cancer: avoid all the risks and eating healthy. That’s it. Avoid smoking, radon, etc. and have a good diet. There is sort of a third way, but it does not technically prevent it, but it can catch lung cancer early on. This thing is to get a yearly lung cancer screening. You should get one of these is you are 50-80 years old in fairly good health and your currently smoke or have in the past 15 years and 20 pack per year smoking history. Noe that you know the types the symptoms, risk and how to prevent it is finally time to talk about treatment!
There are many types of treatment for both types of lung cancer: NSCLC and SCLC. Both cancer can be treated by surgery which is when surgeon’s go in and cut out the cancerous issue, chemotherapy and radiation therapy—to shrink and kill cancer cells, and targeted therapy—to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. For NSCLC there is also a treatment called radiofrequency ablation (RFA).This is when a needle is inserted into the part of your body with cancer and the cancerous cells are heated up and then killed by that heat. These are the usual treatments that people use when they have cancer, but there are some other alternatives or other treatments you can add.
Added treatments are called complementary medicine. You add these along with whatever other treatment you are getting. It includes acupuncture, dietary supplements, massages, and hypnosis. Then we have alternative medicine, which is what you choose to do instead of another treatment like surgery or chemotherapy. It includes special diets, herbal preparation, special teas, and magnet therapy.
The last type of treatment is doing a clinical trial. This is when someone has created a new treatment for something, like cancer. You would enter the trail to see if the new treatment was safe and effective. There are two drawbacks to this treatment though. There is always a group—anonymously picked—who do not get the treat so they can see what the treatment is doing so you could get picked for the group without treatment. And then there is of course the part where the treatment might not be safe or effective. But on the other hand you could be both in the treatment group and have it be safe and effective, which would be a big pro towards clinical trials. It is all really up to what you and your doctors think is right, which brings us to the next part: what questions you should ask.
Here is a list of questions you should ask if you or your loved one is diagnosed with lung cancer:
- What kind of lung cancer do I have?
- Where is it and has it spread?
- What stage am I in?
- What kind of treatment should I do?
- Who can I talk to about the costs of treatment?
- Is my cancer curable?
- How quickly do I need to decide on treatment?
- How would we know if the treatment is working?
- Do I need to change how I eat with treatment?
- What symptoms or side effects do I need to tell you about right away if I experienced them?
This is only a sample list of questions you can ask your doctor. You do not need to ask any or all of them if you don’t want to, I can only suggest you to.
We are at our last part of the article: after treatment. It can be hard to go back into your life after cancer treatment. And the truth is your life will pretty different for a few years after. To officially go into remission you need to have no signs of cancer for a full month after you finish treatment. So if you finish on June 15th you wait until July 15th until you begin remission. After this you have to wait 5 years until you are officially “cured.” This is a hard process to go through for the cancer survivor and the family/friends. I went through this with my best friend. He was diagnosed when he was in 8th grade and it crushed me. After he was done with treatment the hardest part was waiting that month and then those 5 years. Thankfully he was “cured” and is now going into his senior year of college!
So after your last day of treatment get ready for a ton of regular doctors visit to just check you and makes sure everything is good. They will monitor you for treatment side effects, signs of the cancer coming back and anything else. You might want to ask them if they have a survivorship care plan to help you understand everything and make it easier to reenter your life. You will need emotional support no matter what. You might think I don’t need that, but you do. This is the best kind of after treatment, treatment you can get. You can lean on your friends and family, join a support group, religious group or even get an emotional support animal. The biggest thing is to stay positive and remember that YOU ARE A CACNER SURVIVOR.
For more information on lung cancer visit https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer.html
Check out the rest of our website or call us at 412-604-0410 if your loved one needs some assistance while still remaining independent in their home.