Lung Cancer- Knocks the door without warning

“A cough lasting for more than 2-3 weeks could be Tuberculosis” reads a passing billboard on the city streets. Ever given it a thought that this could possibly be diagnosed as Lung Cancer? Every year nearly 70,000 new cases are recorded in our country. The reason being, delay in the diagnosis of the patients as they are unaware of the symptoms which include a persistent cough, chest pain, breathlessness and weight loss. While the past 4-5 years have witnessed an aggressive rise in the incidences of lung cancer cases, people in the country seem to ignore the warning signs at their own risk.

Lung cancer may not produce any noticeable symptoms in the early stages. While a cough linked with respiratory infection will be off in a week or two, a constant cough that drops behind can be a possible sign of lung cancer. Largely caused due to excessive indulgence in smoking, even passive or second hand smoking, lung cancer can also be an outcome of environmental and genetic factors.  Today, the foremost ground of acquiring lung cancer, much against the popular perception, is not smoking but environmental pollution. Increased exposure to industrial pollutants, vehicular emissions and the lesser known fire smoke from the agricultural clearance is becoming the major reason for more cases of the disease.

People foresee lung cancer diagnosis as a death sentence and that is reasonable because the disease costs millions of lives in a year. However, if diagnosed in its preliminary stages, lung cancer need not just get treated, but is often curable. All it needs is to pay close attention to these early and sometimes unexpected signs of lung cancer, and be firm about bringing anything suspicious to the physician’s notice. Indentifying the symptoms are tough, but the growth of the cancer and invasion of lung tissues and surrounding tissue starts interfering with breathing, resulting in symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, mood swings, unexplained loss of appetite, coughing up blood, shoulder pain transferring to the arm, fatigue, muscle weakness and recurrent chest infections.

Doctors cannot always explain why one person gets cancer and another doesn’t. Luckily, a lot of times if the cancer is detected during the early stages, a complete cure is possible. Being aware about lung cancer symptoms will help in preventing it from worsening and healing completely. Nevertheless, prevention is closely associated with correcting the risk factors of the disease which include:

  • Tobacco intake: Smoking causes lung cancer. Bringing a full stop to the smoking habit lowers the risk of developing lung cancer in the smokers. To curb the craving, products such as nicotine gum, nicotine sprays, nicotine patches, or nicotine lozenges proves helpful.

Meanwhile, second-hand smoke coming from a burning cigarette or smoke from other toxic chemicals exhaled by non-smokers is also harmful for the lungs. In such cases, smokers should be considerate enough to avoid smoking in enclosed vicinities among the crowd.

  • Being careful at work: Cancer-causing agents may be found indoors, especially at the workplace that might include asbestos, radon, arsenic, chromium, nickel, tar and soot. These substances possibly contribute to lung cancer in non-smokers. Government should take measures in controlling these cancer-causing agents in the workplace.
  • Diet and physical fitness: A diet rich in fruit, and possibly vegetables help in lowering the risk of lung cancer to a great extent, while heavy alcohol drinking may increase the risk of lung cancer. If the diet is accompanied with regular physical activity the risk further diminishes.

Although many risk factors can be avoided, it is important to keep in mind that avoiding risk factors does not guarantee an aversion of getting cancer. In such cases, early detection leads to a better list of treatment options that includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other therapies including radiofrequency ablation, photodynamic therapy, laser therapy, and stent placement. Usually surgeries consist of pneumonectomy, lobectomy, or segmentectomy where all or part of the lung is removed, the latest addition to it is the Video Assisted Theroscopic Surgery (VATS) and the Robotic surgery where the normal tissue reception is less and the recovery is fast. Today, it is possible to treat a lung cancer tumor less than 2 centimetres through Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy. Within one week the tumor is extracted from its position. Tumour definitions are also detected easily through targeted radiotherapy. In both these advanced therapies, side effects are getting reduced and thus patients are treated with concurrent chemotherapy, where again side effects have reduced and efficacy increased.

Inspite of all the advances in treatment of cancer, cure rates solely rely on the stage of cancer detection.  A majority of patients are diagnosed at an advanced and incurable stage. Thus, much emphasis must be laid upon the early detection by being proactive towards the risk factors, thereby refraining the potentially curable lung cancer from reaching the complex stages, which otherwise is usually asymptomatic.

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