What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australia and the risk of developing lung cancer in the average lifetime is one in 13 for men and one in 21 for women.
There are two types of lung cancer
Non-small cell lung cancer
- Non-Small Cell Lung cancer is the most common and accounts for 8 out of 10 lung cancer cases in Australia. This type of cancer also is then further grouped into adenocarcinoma (which makes up about 40% of all lung cancers). Adenocarcinoma is the most common cause of lung cancer in both smokers and non-smokers.
- Squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma commonly develops in the larger airways of the lung, and large cell undifferentiated carcinoma can appear in any part of the lung and is not clearly and adenocarcinoma or a squamous cell carcinoma.
- Small cell lung cancer usually begins in the middle of the lungs and spreads more quickly than other lung cancers. It accounts for around 15% of lung cancers.
- Despite the stigma of cancer being a “smoker’s disease”, there is an increasing incidence of lung cancer occurring in non-smokers.
- In fact 20% of people who get lung cancer have never smoked.
- Lung cancer receives little “sympathy” in the public eye, and receives much less attention than prostate, ovarian and breast cancers. However there’s no doubt awareness can lead to earlier diagnosis.
Reducing this “blame culture” is also important to help governments rebalance research funding for lung cancer.
- Survival rates for early breast cancer can be as high as 56% (when the cancer is localised), so prompt treatment is the key.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
Lung cancer treatment success is optimised by rapid diagnosis. So act on these symptoms early.
- Weight loss. More than 60 per cent of lung cancer patients report recent sudden weight loss, so be sure to report any rapid weight loss.
- Hoarseness. As the tumour develops, a blockage can occur that may cause pressure and push against the larynx or vocal chords.
- Unusual shortness of breath
- Persistent cough that lasts for longer than eight weeks, which may also be present in the day but is often worse at night. It can be dry or productive, and whilst not often not lung cancer this condition needs to be ruled out.
- Coughing up blood or rust-coloured phlegm needs prompt evaluation.
- Feeling weak or fatigued for no discernible reason, for instance climbing stairs or vacuuming.
- In men, breast enlargement whether subtle or dramatic can indicate lung cancer especially with other symptoms on this list, however this is a rarer sign
- Frequently catching colds and flu (can be a sign of a low immune system OR lung cancer)
- Chest pain is a sign the cancer is pressing against surrounding tissues, while bone pain can also occur if the cancer has metastasized to the bones.
- Thick scaly white skin on the palms “tripe palms” can be associated with stomach and lung cancer
- Shoulder pain can occur as a lung tumour puts pressure on the top of the lungs and nerves in the armpit, which can result in aches, tingling and pain down the shoulder and inner arm. Swollen lymph nodes and facial swelling can also accompany cancer-related shoulder pain.
- About 40% of Dr Herath’s practice involves treating lung cancer patients using the most modern diagnostic techniques such as EBUS.
What are the treatments for lung cancer?
- Treatments for lung cancer include:
Chemotherapy – kills cells that are growing or multiplying too quickly
- Surgery – in particularly wedge resection,
- VATS (video assisted thoracoscopic surgery, or pulmonary lobectomy
- Radiation therapy treatment that uses x-rays and high-energy rays to kill abnormal cells
- Immunotherapy, which increasingly has been shown to improve survival times.
Palliative care treatments for advanced cancer