Additional symptoms can appear if the lung cancer spreads or metastasizes. Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes are common and likely to present early. If cancer spreads to the brain, patients may experience vertigo, headaches, or even seizures.
Screening – How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?
Physicians use information revealed by symptoms as well as from other procedures to help diagnose for lung cancer. Some of the imaging techniques used to screen for lung cancer include X-rays, Bronchoscopy (a thin tube with a camera on the one end), CT scans, MRI scans or PET scans.
While these diagnostic techniques help to provide important information, the only absolute way to diagnose lung cancer is by taking a biopsy where the cancer cells are examined with a microscope.
Lung Cancer Staging
Once a cancer diagnosis is confirmed, an oncologist will determine the stage of the cancer and how far the cancer has spread. The stage of the lung cancer determines which choices are available for the treatment.
How is lung cancer classified?
Lung cancer may be classified into two distinct types based on the appearance of the cancer under a microscope. These types are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer.
Small Cell Lung Cancer – This form of lung cancer usually starts in the bronchi, which are the two main airways that branch off the windpipe. Though the cancer cells for this type of cancer are small, they grow very rapidly and create large tumors. These tumors usually spread quickly to other parts of the body, including the liver, brain and bone. Generally, most small cell lung cancers spread outside the lung areas before they are detected. This type of lung cancer occurs almost exclusively to heavy smokers.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) – Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for 80% of lung cancers, while small cell cancer accounts for the other 20%. NSCLC can be further divided into four different types; each type provides different cancer treatment options.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma – This is the most common type of lung cancer in men. Cancer that begins in the squamous cells, within the lining of the bronchial tubes.Squamous Cell Carcinoma
- Large Cell Carcinoma – This is a rapidly growing lung cancer which originates near the outer edges or surface of the lungs.
- Adenocarcinoma – This is the most common type of lung cancer amongst women and non-smokers. This cancer forms in the mucus producing glands of the lungs.
- Bronchiolveolar Carcinoma – This is a rare form of Adenocarcinoma which forms near the lungs’ air sacs.
Smoking (pipes and cigars included) increases the risk of non-small cell lung cancer. The earlier in life a person starts smoking, the more often a person smokes and the more years they smoke, the greater the risk of lung cancer. If a person stops smoking, the risk becomes lower as the years pass.
How is Lung Cancer Treated?
Treating lung cancer depends on the type of cancer, its stage and how far it has spread, as well as the age and health status of the patient, including any personal characteristics. Patients generally receive a combination of treatments, which may include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation.
New cancer research continuously looks for new, more effective ways to treat lung cancer. There have also been recent developments in the fields of hormone therapy, immunotherapy (this therapy stimulates a patient’s immune system to work harder or more efficiently to attack cancer cells) and gene therapy. Targeted cancer treatments, like the cancer drug Afatinib, focus only on treating the patient’s cancer cells while leaving healthy lung cells alone, also show promise.
Patients should discuss their options with their health care team. Lung cancer treatment is always changing. Please ask your doctor about new and promising treatments, or getting involved in a clinical trial.
Oncology Associates also participates in several clinical trials, including non-small cell lung cancer – learn more about these studies.