Lung cancer

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers, and a very serious condition. There are some treatment options when lung cancer is diagnosed early, however often this condition doesn’t cause major symptoms early on, so diagnosis takes place when the disease has developed to a later stage.

Facts about lung cancer:

  • Approximately 44,500 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK each year
  • It is therefore one of the most common and serious types of cancer
  • There are two types of lung cancer
    • Primary lung cancer, when the cancer starts in the lungs
    • Secondary lung cancer, where the cancer spreads to the lungs from other areas
  • Lung cancer mainly affects older people
  • It is extremely rare in people under 40 years of age
  • Rates of lung cancer rise sharply with age, the most common diagnosis age is 70-74
  • Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer – with 85% of cases this is the cause
  • Survival statistics are improving all the time, with newer therapies that even help advanced stages of the disease
  • The stage of diagnosis is important to the success of treatment and therefore the survival rate

Symptoms of lung cancer

Lung cancer may not produce symptoms particularly early on. However, common symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Persistent breathlessness, in normal daily activities
  • Coughing up blood, or rust coloured phlegm
  • A cough that persists
  • Or, persistent chest infections
  • Aches and pains when breathing or coughing
  • A pain in your chest or shoulder, although less common
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained tiredness

Other symptoms, whilst less common, may include a high temperature (over 38C), difficulty swallowing, wheezing and a hoarse voice, although, these could also be signs of other conditions.

It is vital that you get any symptoms assessed by a doctor. The earlier lung cancer is diagnosed, generally, the more successful the treatment will be.

What causes lung cancer?

Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, responsible for 85% of cases.

If you are a smoker, you are exposed to over 60 different toxic substances, which are known to be carcinogenic (produces cancer).

Cigarette tobacco smoke is the main cause, but other tobacco products may increase the risk of lung cancer, as well as mouth cancer or oesophageal cancer. These include cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and snuff (powdered tobacco).

Smoking cannabis also holds an increased risk of lung cancer, as typically cannabis is mixed with tobacco, but smoke may be more deeply inhaled and held in the lungs for longer.

Unfortunately, even if you don’t smoke yourself but you are continually exposed to cigarette smoke as a “passive smoker” your risk of lung cancer could be increased by as much as 25%.

Other causes of lung cancer

Whilst smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, breathing other harmful substances also increases your risk. These include:

  • Radon – is thought to be accountable for 3% of lung cancer deaths in England
    • This can be found in some buildings, coming from small amount of uranium in rocks and soil
  • Chemical substances such as asbestos, arsenic, cadmium, coal fumes, nickel, silica and beryllium
  • Diesel fumes are also thought to increase risk by up to 50%
  • Nitrogen oxide may also increase risks if you live in an area with heavy fumes from vehicles

The longer you have been exposed to these harmful substances, through occupational or lifestyle choices, the higher your risk of lung cancer.

A specialist consultation gives your health the attention it deserves.

Diagnosing and treating lung cancer

Diagnosing lung cancer is the first step to managing your symptoms and considering your treatment options.

A consultation with a specialist respiratory physician will discuss your symptoms and carry out some tests that can help assess your lung function and health.

Some tests that are used to diagnose lung cancer include:

Spirometry test
  • This involves you blowing into a machine to measure your lung capacity
  • It also measures how quickly you can empty your lungs – known as the forced expiratory volume in one second, FEV1
Blood tests
  • This involves you blowing into a machine to measure your lung capacity
  • It also measures how quickly you can empty your lungs – known as the forced expiratory volume in one second, FEV1
Chest X-rays
  • A chest X-ray is usually the first diagnosis test for lung cancer
  • Tumours show as white/grey mass on X-rays
  • However, other conditions may produce the same results on X-ray, so other tests become necessary if any abnormal images are returned
  • A specialist will need to continue with testing to see the lung damage and if it has spread
Abnormal Chest X-Rays
  • Sometimes a chest X-ray may come back showing abnormal results, but this does not necessarily mean you have cancer. Other tests will be required to fully diagnose lung cancer, or determine the true cause of the abnormal results.

At Liberate Healthcare we regularly review abnormal chest X-rays to determine if there are signs of cancer and if other tests are necessary.

CT scan
  • A CT scan is typically the next test, creating detailed images of your lungs for assessment
  • A liquid dye is used to enhance the images on the scan
  • It is a quick and painless routine test
PET-CT scan
  • A PET-CT scan may be used if your cancer is suspected to be at an early stage of development.
  • This scan can show active cancer cells and help further with diagnosis, as well as treatment
  • This scan uses a radioactive material that allows the cancer to be assessed
  • It is also painless and takes between 30 and 60 minutes
Bronchoscopy
  • A bronchoscopy test may be used if the CT scans suspect lung cancer in the central part of your chest
  • A cell sample will be taken and analysed in the lab for signs of cancer
  • A tool called a bronchoscope will be passed into your airways, through your mouth or nose
  • Although this test only takes a few minutes, it may cause some minor discomfort, so a local anaesthetic and a mild sedative will be used.
  • Sometimes a general anaesthetic is used for some patients
Other types of biopsy
  • There are other types of biopsy, such as:
    • Percutaneous needle, or percutaneous lung biopsy, is taken through the skin
    • Thoracoscopy
    • Mediastinoscopy

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, your specialist doctor will also assess the stage at which your cancer has developed. This will be key to what options are available to you regarding treatment.

Treatments for lung cancer may include, but are not limited to:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgery, including:
    • Lobectomy – where part of the lungs, called lobes, are removed. This may be one or more.
    • Pneumonectomy – where the lung is removed in its entirety. This is used when the cancer has spread through the lung, or is located in the centre of the lung.
    • Segmentectomy – where some of the lung is removed. However, this is only suitable for some people where the cancer is confined and the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage.

Often surgery is combined with chemotherapy to ensure remaining cancer cells are destroyed. A specialist consultant will discuss a treatment plan with you, ensuring you are fully informed of all options, tests and any treatment decisions, including side effects.

Seek the right help to feel your best

To feel our best is ultimately everyone’s goal in life.

Often it is only when a condition arises, leaving us feeling unwell, that it becomes clear as to the value of our health.

Expert help is available to help you to better understand, manage and improve symptoms related to your respiratory health.

A specialist consultation gives your health the attention it deserves.