Lung Cancer Symptoms This year, nearly 175,000 Americans will learn they have lung cancer. Smoking is the greatest known risk factor for lung cancer, although being exposed to second-hand smoke, radon, asbestos and other chemicals can also increase your chances of developing the disease. Quitting smoking not only decreases your chance of getting lung cancer but it also helps make treatments for those with the disease more effective.
In addition, stopping smoking reduces the risk of infections, such as pneumonia, and improves breathing. There are currently no screening tests for lung cancer that have been proven to be as reliable as mammography is for breast cancer, so it's important for people at risk to watch for signs of the disease. Symptoms include persistent cough or coughing blood, recurring pneumonia, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue. Studies of computed tomography (CT) in high-risk patients are underway.
A chest X-ray will often reveal a lung tumor and its location. Other tests, such as CT or PET scans, can provide more detailed information. To be certain that you have lung cancer, tissue from your lung will be removed and analyzed. This is called a biopsy. "As with any form of cancer, the key to treating and potentially curing lung cancer is to catch it early. There are effective treatments for this disease and it's important for people with lung cancer to consult with several cancer specialists, including a radiation oncologist, to decide on the best treatment for their type of cancer and lifestyle," said Thomas Eichler, M.D. Chair of the Communications Committee for the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology and a radiation oncologist at CJW Medical Center in Richmond, Va. If you have lung cancer, your treatment will depend on the type of cancer, its location and your overall health.
The main treatments are:
* Surgery: A surgeon operates to remove the tumor.
* Chemotherapy: Medical oncologists use drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs are typically given through the veins.
* Radiation therapy: Radiation oncologists have two main weapons against lung cancer - external beam radiation therapy and internal radiation, called brachytherapy.
During external beam treatments, radiation oncologists target high-energy X-rays at the tumor to destroy cancer cells or to relieve symptoms such as pain. These treatments do not hurt and take only a few minutes a day over several weeks. With brachytherapy, a thin tube is placed down the nose and into the airways of the lung. The tube is then connected to a machine that delivers high doses of radiation to the cancer. Side effects will be different for each patient depending on the type of cancer and the treatments received. Talk to your doctor to find out what you can expect.