Lung cancer: symptoms, causes, treatment and diagnosis

Lung cancer is the third most common type of cancer among men and the fourth with the highest incidence among women in Brazil, according to estimates by the National Cancer Institute (INCA). The main cause of this disease is still smoking, but thanks to the awareness of the harmful effects of smoking on health and the consequent decrease in the number of smokers, the mortality rate decreased by up to 3.8% per year between 2011 and 2015.

Lung cancer is divided according to the type of cells that form the tumor. The main types are: non-small cell cancer and small cell cancer. In order to better understand the causes, treatments, diagnosis and symptoms of lung cancer, the Care for Life team interviewed pulmonologist José Eduardo Martinelli, who also indicated the most effective ways to prevent this disease. Check out!

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

In its early stage, the formation of a lung tumor usually does not cause any symptoms. The pulmonologist says that many people associate the appearance of this disease with pain, but the truth is that this occurrence only happens when the cancer infiltrates certain structures of the body. “There is a tumor in the lung called pancoast, which compromises the pulmonary apex and causes very intense pain due to the infiltration of the shoulder structures”, clarified the doctor. In addition to the pain, Dr. Martinelli reveals other symptoms of lung cancer:

  • Dyspnoea (shortness of breathe): when the tumor in the lung grows into the bronchus, it causes a degree of obstruction. “This obstruction can be total and then there will be atelectasis, which is a lack of ventilation in a lung lobe”, clarified the doctor.

  • Pneumonia: Dr. Martinelli says that diminished ventilation can trigger a pneumonia. “The so-called delayed resolution pneumonias are pneumonias that can arise due to the presence of a bronchial obstruction”, he explained.

  • hoarseness: the tumor in the lung can also cause vocal cord paralysis. “The person becomes hoarse and the problem lies in the compression of the mediastinum by a metastasis”, said the specialist.

In addition to these symptoms of lung cancer, the pulmonologist also highlights weight loss and a persistent chronic cough with no apparent cause.

What are the causes of lung cancer?

INCA data reveal the most common risk factors that can increase the incidence of cancer cells and lead to lung cancer:

  • smoking;
  • exposure to air pollution;
  • recurrent lung infections;
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)a set of diseases that mainly involve pulmonary emphysema and chronic bronchitis;
  • genetic factors and family history of lung cancer;
  • advanced age (between 50 and 70 years);
  • work in contact with some kind of chemical agent.

Lung cancer diagnosis

To diagnose lung cancer, it is necessary to consult an oncology specialist or a pulmonologist. “Bronchoscopy is an examination done through the airways (as if it were an endoscopy) and is capable of showing the presence and grade of the tumor by performing a lung biopsy. In addition, chest X-rays, CT scans, and eventually an MRI may be done,” said Dr. Martinelli. Another exam that the doctor indicates to try to identify cancer is the evaluation of the pleural fluid.

Is lung cancer curable? Know the ways of treatment

Treatment for lung cancer will depend on the type of tumor identified on bronchoscopy. Surgery is curative and can be done when the cancer is still in its early stages, that is, it is still small. The procedure can remove anything from a small part of the lung to the entire organ. If surgery is not indicated for a patient in this group, it is possible to resort to radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

In later stages, the cancer is more advanced and treatment will involve a combination of the measures mentioned above. “Now, if the tumor is already metastatic, regional in the lung itself, in the mediastinum or at a distance, taking the liver and the bone, the treatment is chemotherapy and, eventually, radiotherapy”, clarified the doctor. Today, chemotherapy and immunotherapy are in evidence in the treatment of lung cancer and decreasing the progression of the disease.

Care to prevent lung cancer

  • Quit smoking: the first measure to prevent lung cancer is quit smoking once and for all. Smoking, either with a regular cigarette or electronicleaves the user (and even the people around, the so-called passive smoker) in contact with a series of chemical and toxic substances that can lead to the development of a tumor in the lung.

  • Avoid (as much as possible) pollution: living in big cities offers a greater risk of contact with atmospheric pollution. If possible, choose to live in places away from expressways and factories, places where there are more pollutant emissions.

  • Adopt a healthy diet: according to National Health System (NHS)public health system in the United Kingdom, research indicates that maintaining a diet low in fat, high in fiber, whole grains and 5 daily servings of vegetables and fruit can reduce the risk of lung cancer and other types of cancer.

  • Practice physical exercises: still according to the NHS, there is evidence indicating that regularly engaging in physical exercise can reduce the risk of lung cancer, especially in people who smoke or who have smoked. The recommendation is at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, in addition to strength training twice a week.

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