Understanding Your Lungs
Your lungs are sponge like organs that are responsible for getting oxygen from the air you breath to the blood traveling your circulatory system. Your lungs can be compared to a tree as they continue to break off into smaller and smaller ‘branches’. When you breath, air travels down your wind pipe or trachea. Your trachea then separates into left and right bronchial tubes which lead to the left and right lung. The bronchi split into smaller and smaller tubes that will end in alveoli. Alveoli are small balloon-like sacs that allow the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the lungs and blood stream. Your right lung has three lobes, or sections, and your left lung has two lobes.
Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Primary lung cancer originates in the lungs and may spread to other parts of the body or metastasize. Secondary lung cancer, is cancer that has spread from another part of the body into the lungs. Lung cancer can be divided into two groups, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Non-small cell lung cancer makes up 80-85% of cases and tends to grow and spread more slowly than SCLC. Non-small cell lung cancer can be divided into different groups based on the location and affected cells. Small cell lung cancer makes up 15-20% of cases and is a type of neuroendocrine tumor. Neuroendocrine tumors cause an excess release of hormones. SCLC grows and spreads rapidly to other parts of the body. Other types of tumors include Mesothelioma and Carcinoid tumors. Lung cancer is stages based on the tumor size and where the cancer has spread.
What are the Symptoms
Often lung cancer has no symptoms due to limited pain receptors in the lungs. If symptoms do occur they are dependent on type of cancer, location, and size of tumor.
Cancer that is only in the lungs:
Coughing up blood
Shortness of breath
Pain in chest
Lung cancer that has spread to nearby tissue or lymph nodes:
Pain or difficulty swallowing
High pitched sound when breathing
Fluid in the lining of the lung (pleural effusion)
Fluid in the lining of the heart (pericardial effusion)
Cancer that has spread or metastasized to distant areas of the body may cause symptoms related to the affected area.
How Lung Cancer is Diagnosed
Lung cancer may first be identified in a chest x-ray or by visualization through Computed Tomography (CT scans). CT scans are much more detailed than x-rays and can determine if a tumor has spread to surrounding lymph nodes. After an area of concern is visualized, a biopsy, or sample of tissue or fluid must be taken. Biopsies will confirm the presence of cancer and will determine the type of cancer. Biopsies can be obtained through a number of methods. Staging of lung cancer can be done by means of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan). Both MRI and PET scans help in visualizing the spreading of cancer cells.
Prognosis and Survival
Prognosis refers to a likely outcome of a disease and any chances of recovery or reoccurrence. Survival rate is the percentage of people who survive a specific period of time. Prognosis and survival rates are drawn from studies of hundreds or thousands of people, and are specified to type and stages of cancer. Statistics may be helpful, but do not make it possible to predict how long someone who is receiving treatment may live. Many other factors come into play such as, type and stage of cancer, location, response to treatment, and a persons general health and gender.