What is lung cancer? The symptoms, treatment and survival rate of the condition

But what exactly is lung cancer – and what can be done to help?

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer involves the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that start off in one or both lungs – usually in the cells that line the air passages.

Instead of developing into healthy lung tissue, these cells divide rapidly and form tumours.

As these tumours grow and spread, they weaken the lung’s ability to provide the bloodstream with oxygen.

However, not all tumours are created equal.

Tumours that remain in one place and don’t appear to spread are known as “benign tumours”.

Meanwhile, malignant tumours are the more dangerous variety.

These spread to other parts of the body, either via the bloodstream or the lymphatic system – once these spread it is much harder to treat successfully.

Lung cancer can be separated into two main categories – primary lung cancer and secondary lung cancer.

Primary lung cancer originates in the lungs, while secondary lung cancer starts somewhere else in the body, before spreading to the lungs – they are considered different types of cancers.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

While suffering with a lingering cough, feeling tired and losing your appetite could be mistaken for a virus or common cold, it may be the sign of something more serious and is worth getting check out.

Other symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • Having a cough most of the time
  • A change in a cough you have had for a long time
  • Being short of breath
  • Coughing up phlegm which has signs of blood
  • Aches or pains in the chest or shoulder
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss

How is lung cancer treated?

Treatment for lung cancer depends on the nature of the disease in each individual patient.

Some cases of non-small-cell lung cancer can be treated with surgery, while others may require chemotherapy and radiotherapy, particularly if the disease has spread or if the patient has other health issues which rule out surgery.

Meanwhile, small-cell lung cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy – sometimes in combination with radiotherapy.

What are the different stages of lung cancer?

Stage 1: Cancer is found in the lung, but it has not spread outside the lung.
Stage 2: Cancer is found in the lung and nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 3: Cancer is in the lung and lymph nodes in the middle of the chest.
Stage 3A: Cancer is found in lymph nodes, but only on the same side of the chest where cancer first started growing.
Stage 3B: Cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest or to lymph nodes above the collarbone.
Stage 4: Cancer has spread to both lungs, into the area around the lungs, or to distant organs.

What's the survival rate for lung cancer?

Unfortunately, lung cancer is often diagnosed late because it doesn't usually cause noticeable symptoms until it has spread through the lungs or into other parts of the body.

This means that for many people the cancer has already spread when they are diagnosed.

In general, about 1 in 3 people with the illness live for at least a year after they're diagnosed and about 1 in 20 people live for at least 10 years.

However, it is worth noting that survival rates can vary widely, depending on how far the cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis –early diagnosis can make a big difference.

For more information and support, visit Cancer Research UK



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