Facts About Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer, and one of the more unfortunate lung cancer facts is that it has taken more lives than breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer combined. However, advances in treatment, especially in the field of radiation therapy, have helped improve the prognosis for lung cancer.
The most common cause of lung cancer is smoking, but there are other risk factors that can increase your chances of developing cancer later in life. Exposure to radon gas, asbestos, and silica, air pollution, family history of lung cancer; and past lung disease that leaves scarring can all increase the chances of developing lung cancer.
The Types and Staging of Lung Cancer
The term “lung cancer” actually encompasses several different types of tumors. The staging of the disease depends largely on the size and location of the tumor, as well as whether — and how much — the cancer has spread.
The more common type of lung cancer is non-small cell cancer, which accounts for about 85 percent of lung cancer cases. These include three types of tumors: Adenocarcinomas, which form in the mucus-secreting glands of the lungs; squamous cell or epidermoid, which form in the brachial tubes; and large-cell carcinomas, which are non-small cell tumors that do not meet the criteria for either of the other two types.
Stage I non-small cell lung cancer means that the cancer is contained to the lungs only. Stage II means that the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, while stage III means that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest; if the lymph nodes on just one side of the chest are affected, that is stage IIIA, while lymph nodes on both sides of the chest and above the collar bone warrant a Stage IIIB diagnosis. Finally, Stage IV lung cancer is the most advanced stage, in which the cancer has spread to both lungs, the fluid around the lungs, and/or other organs.
The second, less common, type of lung cancer is small-cell lung cancer. This type of tumor grows faster, and spreads sooner than the non-small cell cancer. Because it is rarer, the staging for this type of cancer is less specific, using only limited and extensive. Limited indicates that the cancer is contained in one lung, and possibly, nearby lymph nodes, while extensive means that the cancer has spread to both lungs, and potentially beyond.
Treating Lung Cancer
Doctors use surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, or a combination, to treat both types of lung cancer.
- Surgery. Surgery is used most often in early stage lung cancer. Depending on the size and location of the tumor, the surgeon may remove all or part of a lobe, or the entire lung. However, not all patients are good candidates for surgery. Not only must they have good lung function, but surgery is not generally effective for cancer that has metastasized, or for small-cell cancer.
- Small-cell lung cancer tends to respond well to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is also used in advanced stages of non-small cell lung cancer. However, the side effects of chemo often feel worse than the disease itself, and can cause additional pain.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation uses powerful X-rays to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. Often used in conjunction with surgery or chemotherapy, it’s also a viable option when surgery isn’t appropriate. For example, the stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) offered at the Los Angeles-based Pasadena CyberKnife, uses highly advanced tumor-tracking software and robotics to target cancer cells with pinpoint accuracy to treat tumors in as few as one to five visits, a fraction of the time of other treatments — without surgery or pain.
Early Detection of Lung Cancer Is Rare
As with every other type of cancer, early detection of lung cancer increases long-term survival rates. However, because the lungs are so large, and because most of the symptoms of lung cancer mimic those of other conditions, one of the most frustrating facts about lung cancer is that it’s rarely detected in its early stages. Only about 15 percent of lung cancer cases are detected when the disease is at a stage I or stage II. The vast majority of lung cancer cases are discovered in stage III or stage IV, when the disease has spread beyond the lungs and into the nearby lymph nodes and other organs.
However, studies are showing advances in early detection, and a diagnosis of late stage lung cancer does not always equal a poor prognosis. With treatment like CyberKnife SBRT, the long-term survival rate for lung cancer patients increases. In fact, more than half of all lung cancer patients who are treated in the early stages live five years or longer post-diagnosis and later stage patients can live five years or longer without disease progression.
Learn More Today
Because lung cancer facts and information and treatment are so complex, and every case varies, it’s best to talk with a qualified provider to determine the most effective treatment. Call our center at 626-768-1021 or fill out our convenient Web form to schedule your consultation and learn about your lung cancer treatment options.