How deadly is lung cancer? Signs, symptoms and prevention, according to an expert
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Read on to learn more about lung cancer, its causes, and the top warning signs. (Photo via Getty Images)
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult a qualified healthcare professional before engaging in any physical activity or making any changes to your diet, medications, or lifestyle.
For years, more and more Canadians have been confronted with the often fatal diagnosis of lung cancer. The condition can be difficult to recognize and therefore difficult to treat.
Almost 100 people are expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer in Canada every day, which is a worrying statistic.
To mark Lung Cancer Awareness Month, which is celebrated in November, Yahoo Canada spoke to Dr. Susanna Yee-Shan Cheng, a medical oncologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, on the disease and how you can prevent it.
Read on to learn more about lung cancer, its causes, and the top warning signs.
Lung cancer is usually divided into two main types called small cell and non-small cell. (Photo via Getty Images)
What is lung cancer?
Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, "Lung cancer begins in the cells of the lungs," and when it begins in the cells of the lungs, "it is referred to as primary lung cancer."
Lung cancer is usually divided into two main types called small cell and non-small cell.
Non-small cell lung cancer usually starts in glandular cells in the outer part of the lung, and small cell lung cancer usually starts in cells lining the bronchi in the middle of the lung. Non-small cell are more common.
According to Cheng, while lung cancer is not as common as skin or breast cancer, for example, the mortality rate is worrying.
“Lung cancer is actually the most common cause of cancer death. It's common, but actually mortality is the biggest problem.”
dr Susanna Cheng
"Lung cancer is actually the leading cause of cancer death," says Cheng. "It's common, but actually mortality is the biggest problem. Stage lung cancer is prognostically worse than most cancers.”
What causes lung cancer?
Cheng says smoking is "the leading cause" of lung cancer. According to Lung Cancer Canada, the majority of lung cancer cases — about 85 percent — are directly related to smoking tobacco, particularly cigarettes.
Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by:
• Causes genetic changes in the cells of the lungs
• Interfering with the normal cleaning process of the lungs, by which they get rid of foreign and harmful particles
• Uptake of carcinogenic particles into the mucus and development into cancerous tumors
However, Cheng reveals that there is a "growing number of patients who are non-smokers."
Smoking is "the most common cause" of lung cancer, according to Cheng. (Photo via Getty Images)
"In particular, we are now seeing patients who have never smoked or have never been exposed to secondhand smoke developing lung cancer, which is interesting because smoking is usually a major cause," explains Cheng. "There's a number of patients who never smoke and may have no reason to get lung cancer, so that's the worrying part."
Cheng says "we don't know why" non-smokers get lung cancer, so more research needs to be done. However, their best guess is that it is "related to certain hormones."
However, the main focus of lung cancer screening is on people with a history of smoking between the ages of 55 and 70.
Unfortunately, Cheng adds that "the system doesn't allow screening for non-smokers."
"We are now seeing patients who have never smoked or have never been exposed to secondhand smoke who develop lung cancer."
dr Susanna Cheng
What are the signs and symptoms of lung cancer?
In its early stages, lung cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms. As the tumor grows and causes changes in the body, it usually causes coughing and shortness of breath.
However, if you have any of the following signs and symptoms associated with lung cancer, it is important that you see a doctor or healthcare professional as soon as possible:
A cough that gets worse or doesn't go away
shortness of breath
Chest pain that you can always feel and that gets worse with deep breathing or coughing
Blood in the mucus coughed out of the lungs
hoarseness or other changes in your voice
Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or above the collarbone
Cheng notes that she usually thinks of "coughs, infections, or pneumonia" as precursors to lung cancer.
However, she reveals that "COVID has played a part".
"Nowadays, if someone has COVID, they can cough for weeks," she says. "Some sometimes can't really tell what the symptoms represent, which can make it difficult to diagnose at first."
A cough that gets worse or doesn't go away is an important sign of lung cancer. (Photo via Getty Images)
She adds that coughing, shortness of breath (especially with exercise), unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, chest pain and hoarse voice are other possible warning signs of lung cancer.
"Smokers may always have a chronic cough, but non-smokers may never have a cough or develop it over time. That can delay a lung cancer diagnosis,” adds Cheng.
How is lung cancer diagnosed and treated?
Lung cancer is usually diagnosed after a visit to your GP, who will ask you about your medical history and symptoms, and perform a physical exam. They may also have a blood test or an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan.
If lung cancer is diagnosed, other tests are done to find out how far it has spread to the lungs, lymph nodes, and the rest of the body. This process is called staging.
Screening for lung cancer is another important step that can help detect the disease early. Early detection of lung cancer is vital. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the greater the chance of survival.
"It's unfortunate that there's no real screening for people who don't smoke yet, but hopefully soon."
dr Susanna Cheng
"It's unfortunate that there's no real screening for people who don't smoke yet, but hopefully soon," says Cheng.
As for the treatment, Cheng believes it's going in a positive direction.
“Things have changed significantly in the last 20 years. We used to only have chemotherapy, but now it is based on their pathology and their genetic mutations that predict what kind of treatment they will receive, such as: B. Immunotherapy and targeted drugs,” explains Cheng.
Quit smoking to reduce your risk of lung cancer. (Photo via Getty Images)
How can I prevent or reduce the risk of lung cancer?
Unfortunately, not all lung cancer can be prevented. However, there are things you can do to prevent the condition from developing, such as: B. Changing the risk factors that you can control.
Cheng says the first thing to do is to avoid smoking.
"Really don't smoke and try not to be around a loved one who smokes because the risk of secondhand smoke is also very real," she says.
Cheng adds that there aren't many risk factors related to diet or alcohol, but keep "occupational exposure" in mind.
“Watch the occupational exposure as in Ephesus. You could also check for radon in your house, but other than that, there's not really much you can do," she explains.
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