Lung Cancer Treatment
Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the lungs. Your lungs are two spongy organs in your chest that take in oxygen when you inhale and release carbon dioxide when you exhale.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, among both men and women. Lung cancer claims more lives each year than do colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancers combined.
People who smoke have the greatest risk of lung cancer, though lung cancer can also occur in people who have never smoked. The risk of lung cancer increases with the length of time and number of cigarettes you've smoked. If you quit smoking, even after smoking for many years, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that start off in one or both lungs; usually in the cells that line the air passages. The abnormal cells do not develop into healthy lung tissue, they divide rapidly and form tumors.
As tumors become larger and more numerous, they undermine the lung’s ability to provide the bloodstream with oxygen. Tumors that remain in one place and do not appear to spread are known as “benign tumors”.
Malignant tumors, the more dangerous ones, spread to other parts of the body either through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. Metastasis refers to cancer spreading beyond its site of origin to other parts of the body. When cancer spreads it is much harder to treat successfully.
Primary lung cancer originates in the lungs, while secondary lung cancer starts somewhere else in the body, metastasizes, and reaches the lungs. They are considered different types of cancers and are not treated in the same way.
According to the National Cancer Institute, by the end of 2015 there will have been 221,200 new lung cancer diagnoses and 158,040 lung-cancer related deaths in the USA.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 7.6 million deaths globally each year are caused by cancer; cancer represents 13% of all global deaths. As seen below, lung cancer is by far the number one cancer killer.
A number of factors may increase your risk of lung cancer. Some risk factors can be controlled, for instance, by quitting smoking. And other factors can't be controlled, such as your family history.
Risk factors for lung cancer include:
- Smoking. Your risk of lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke each day and the number of years you have smoked. Quitting at any age can significantly lower your risk of developing lung cancer.
- Exposure to secondhand smoke. Even if you don't smoke, your risk of lung cancer increases if you're exposed to secondhand smoke.
- Exposure to radon gas. Radon is produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water that eventually becomes part of the air you breathe. Unsafe levels of radon can accumulate in any building, including homes.
- Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens. Workplace exposure to asbestos and other substances known to cause cancer — such as arsenic, chromium and nickel — also can increase your risk of developing lung cancer, especially if you're a smoker.
- Family history of lung cancer. People with a parent, sibling or child with lung cancer have an increased risk of the disease.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer Treatment
Symptoms of non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer are basically the same.
Early symptoms may include:
- lingering or worsening cough
- coughing up phlegm or blood
- chest pain that worsens when you breathe deeply, laugh, or cough
- shortness of breath
- weakness and fatigue
- loss of appetite and weight loss
You might also have recurrent respiratory infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
As cancer spreads, additional symptoms depend on where new tumors form. For example, if in the:
- lymph nodes: lumps, particularly in the neck or collarbone
- bones: bone pain, particularly in the back, ribs, or hips
- brain or spine: headache, dizziness, balance issues, or numbness in arms or legs
- liver: yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)
Tumors at the top of the lungs can affect facial nerves, leading to drooping of one eyelid, small pupil, or lack of perspiration on one side of the face. Together, these symptoms are called Horner syndrome. It can also cause shoulder pain.
Tumors can press on the large vein that transports blood between the head, arms, and heart. This can cause swelling of the face, neck, upper chest, and arms.
Lung cancer sometimes creates a substance similar to hormones, causing a wide variety of symptoms called paraneoplastic syndrome, which include:
- muscle weakness
- fluid retention
- high blood pressure
- high blood sugar
Procedure of Lung Cancer
In a thoracotomy, the surgeon opens up the chest cavity to gain access to the lungs. An incision is made in the side of the chest, and the ribs are spread apart, allowing the surgeon to remove cancerous tissue from the lungs.
Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS): VATS is a minimally invasive technology used to perform a lobectomy or wedge resection without opening the chest. This thoracotomy procedure involves inserting a long, thin tube with an attached camera (thoracoscope) and small surgical instruments into the chest. Using images taken by the camera, the surgeon removes portions of the lung that contain cancerous tissue. VATS typically offers a quicker recovery time and less pain than other types of lung surgery, because no large incision or movement of the ribs is needed. VATS may also be used to biopsy lung tissue and to confirm a lung cancer diagnosis. This type of procedure is called a diagnostic thoracoscopy.
Robotic-assisted thoracic surgery: Robotic surgery is another minimally invasive approach to treating lung cancer. The instruments have greater ranges of motion, allowing for more delicate dissection. The recovery time and pain levels are similar to those resulting from VATS.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) surgeons perform four types of surgery to treat lung cancer:
- Wedge resection: This procedure is used to remove cancerous tissue from the lung, typically in diagnosing or treating metastasis.
- Segmentectomy: This surgery is designed to remove cancerous tissue from a lung segment when a lobectomy cannot be performed. The lungs have various numbers of segments: three in the right upper lobe, two in the right middle lobe, five in the right lower lobe, four in the left lower lobe and four in the left upper lobe.
- Lobectomy: In this procedure, an entire lobe is removed from the lung. The right lung has three lobes, and the left lung has two.
- Pneumonectomy: This is the removal of an entire lung.