Lungs have the job of taking in air and transporting it (with the heart) around the body, and getting rid of carbon dioxide.
About the lungs
What is lung cancer?
What causes it?
The symptoms of lung cancer may include any of the following:
- a continuing cough, or change in a long-standing cough
- a chest infection that does not get better
- increasing breathlessness
- coughing up blood-stained phlegm (sputum)
- a hoarse voice
- a dull ache, or a sharp pain, when you cough or take a deep breath
- loss of appetite and loss of weight
- difficulty swallowing
- excessive tiredness (fatigue) and lethargy
If you have any of these symptoms you should have them checked by your doctor, but remember, they are common to many illnesses other than lung cancer.
After visiting a GP a referral will probably be made to a hospital for some tests. These may include:
- Chest X-rays
- MRI scan – uses magnetic fields to build up a series of cross-sectional pictures of the body.
- Mediastinoscopy – a procedure done under a general anaesthetic, where the doctor can look inside the chest at the area behind the breast bone.
- Lung biopsy– some cells are removed from the abnormal area and examined under a microscope.
- PET scan – a scan that shows how tissues inside the body are working.
- Ultrasound scan – uses sound waves to look at internal organs.
- Lung function tests – breathing tests to check how well the lungs are working.
- Sputum test – taking a sample of the sputum (spit) and looking at it under a microscope to see if there are cancer cells present.
If the results of the test show the presence of lung cancer, another referral will be made to a doctor who specialises in the treatment of lungs (called an Pulmonary doctor).
The stage of a cancer describes its size and whether it has spread. Once the doctors know the stage of the cancer, they can decide on the most appropriate treatment.
Generally cancer is divided into four stages:
- Stage 1: is small and localised.
- Stages 2 or 3: it has spread into surrounding structures.
- Stage 4: it has spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment depends on the size and type of the tumour and its location. There can be side effects associated with treatment.
Treatment for small cell lung cancer:
Chemotherapy is the main treatment for small cell lung cancer. Radiotherapy is sometimes given as well. Surgery is not a common form of treatment because small cell lung cancer has often spread to other parts of the body. If surgery is an option, then chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy may be given after surgery. This is called adjuvant treatment.
Non-small cell lung cancer:
Treatment for non-small cell lung cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. Surgery is usually the first step in treatment for stage 1 cancer, and is less used as the stages increase because this usually means the cancer has spread. Surgery is often given with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is usually given first if surgery is not an option, with chemotherapy often used to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Remember that the treatment plan for each person can be quite different depending on the cancer stage.