Don't Ignore the Signals
Lung cancer remains one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Despite advances in medical science for early detection and treatment, lung cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage because its signs and symptoms can be easily overlooked or attributed to other health issues. In this article, we will look at the early warning signs of lung cancer, discuss what lung cancer is, what causes it and the different types. We will also explore treatment options available for lung cancer, including Xalkori, a prescription medication used to treat adults with non-small cell lung cancer that has metastasized.
Warning Signs of Lung Cancer
Recognizing the early warning signs of lung cancer can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment, greatly improving the chances of a successful outcome. Here are the most common signs of lung cancer.
1. New Cough
A persistent cough that doesn’t go away, especially if it's different from a normal cough related to a cold or allergies.
2. Coughing up Blood
Although it may be a sign of other conditions, coughing up blood (hemoptysis) is a significant symptom that always warrants a medical evaluation.
3. Shortness of Breath
Experiencing breathlessness during activities that were previously managed without difficulty could be a sign of lung cancer hindering airways.
4. Chest Pain
Lung cancer can cause chest pain that may be worsened by deep breathing, coughing or laughing.
5. Hoarse Voice
If the voice becomes unexpectedly hoarse, and this symptom persists for more than a few weeks, it may be due to a tumor affecting the nerves that control the voice box.
While wheezing can be a symptom of various conditions, it may also point toward an obstruction or inflammation in the lungs related to cancer.
Unexplained and persistent tiredness that does not improve with rest may be a symptom of lung cancer.
8. Losing Weight
Unintentional significant weight loss (when not trying to lose weight) may be a sign of cancer due to the body's increased energy needed to fight the illness.
9. Bone Pain
Lung cancer that has spread to the bones might result in pain in the back or other areas of the body.
Consistent headaches could be a sign that lung cancer has metastasized to the brain, although headaches can also be attributed to various other conditions.
What is Lung Cancer and What Causes It?
Lung cancer occurs when cells in the lungs mutate and grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor. The exact cause of these mutations is often unknown, but several factors are known to increase the risk of lung cancer. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, accounting for the vast majority of cases. Other triggers and risk factors include exposure to second-hand smoke, radon gas, asbestos and other carcinogens. In addition, a family history of lung cancer and previous radiation therapy to the chest could also cause lung cancer.
Types of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is mainly divided into two types, based on the appearance of the tumor cells when viewed under a microscope:
- Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC): This is the most common type of lung cancer, representing about 85% of cases. It encompasses a few subtypes, such as adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma, each with unique characteristics and treatment approaches.
- Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC): This type tends to grow and spread more quickly than NSCLC. It is closely associated with smoking and makes up about 10-15% of lung cancer cases.
- Metastatic Lung Cancer: When lung cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, it’s known as metastatic lung cancer. Common sites for lung cancer metastasis include the brain, bones, liver and adrenal glands.
- Advanced Lung Cancer: This term is often used to describe end-stage lung cancer that has spread from where it started to other parts of the body (stage IV cancer). It can be either small cell or non-small cell lung cancer.
Treatment Options for Lung Cancer
Treatment for lung cancer varies depending on the type, stage and overall health of the patient. Here are some standard treatment methods.
- Surgery: For certain early-stage non-small cell lung cancers, surgery can be used to remove the tumor along with a margin of healthy tissue.
Radiation: High-energy rays (or particles) are used to destroy cancer cells. It can be used as a primary treatment, after surgery or to relieve symptoms of advanced lung cancer.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy utilizes drugs to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. It can be given before or after surgery, often in combination with radiation therapy, and is the main treatment for small cell lung cancer.
- Targeted drug therapy: Targets specific abnormalities present within cancer cells. For example, drugs that target epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations or anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) mutations are used in some types of non-small cell lung cancer.
- Immunotherapy: Uses the body’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Examples include checkpoint inhibitors that help the immune system respond more strongly to a tumor.
- Xalkori: Xalkori (crizotinib) is a specific targeted therapy drug used to treat advanced, metastatic non-small cell lung cancer in adults that is caused by ALK or ROS1 gene mutations. It works by blocking these gene mutations, which hinders the spread and growth of tumors.
Lung Cancer Awareness
Awareness of the warning signs of lung cancer, understanding the disease and access to proper medical care are essential for a timely diagnosis and effective treatment of lung cancer. With the ongoing research and therapeutic advancements, there is hope that the outcomes for those battling this challenging disease will continue to improve.