Claiming an estimated 160,000 deaths in 2008, lung cancer is the top killing form of the disease. As it progresses through the body, lung cancer eradicates a person's ability to breathe, especially during the final stages of development.
Lung Cancer and Smoking
The number one risk factor attributed to lung cancer is smoking. 85% of diagnosed patients are smokers. This is because cigarettes contain over forty carcinogens that are known to be cancer-causing. As a smoker inhales, the carcinogens alter the lung cells' DNA, allowing it the possibility of growing into a cancerous tumour. When cancer cells enter the blood stream and into the lung, they begin to eat away at the lung's tissue, destroying the respiratory system piece by piece.
Early and Mid Stage
In the early stages of non-small cell lung cancer, a tumour develops somewhere in the lung and the surrounding tissues. If caught early enough, the tumour can be surgically removed. However, lung cancer patients are often diagnosed at mid-stage development, when the tumour has grown to a considerable size and has spread its cancerous cells to nearby lymph nodes. In some cases, the multiple tumours have developed across both lungs. Small cell lung cancer progresses so rapidly that it is often diagnosed as either in limited or advanced stages.
Late Stage Diagnosis
Late stage (or stage 4) non-small cell lung cancer is diagnosed when the cancer has begun to infect lymph nodes beyond those in the lungs as well as other surrounding organs. The heart, liver, throat and brain become subject to this cancer spread, causing an array of health problems. This diagnosis can be obtained through X-rays, blood tests and biopsies of the lung and other organs, dependent on the presenting symptoms.
Extreme fatigue, dry mouth and pneumonia are all symptoms of late stage lung cancer. If the tumour has settled in the chest wall on top of a major vein, the backed-up blood can cause major swelling in the chest, neck and face. Dizziness, memory loss and even hallucinations can occur if the lung cancer has metastasised in to the brain. At the final stages, patients are not expected to live very long. According to the Cancer Help website, only 2 per cent of people with stage 4 lung cancer survive beyond five years.
At the final stages, treatment is mostly done through chemotherapy, which is the use of chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Patients are injected or orally receive chemicals such as docetaxel or gemcitabine or a combination of drugs. Surgery is performed only to alleviate any symptoms. Since late stage lung cancer is considered terminal, hospice care is also given to patients.
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