Lung cancer is not a pleasing word to anyone’s ears. The word “cancer” itself sounds deadly to people.
There have been myths about this disease which have turned out to be false. Some people have said that only smokers develop lung cancer, this has turned out to be false.
Lung cancer remains a major public health concern as it causes great socioeconomic consequences and disease burden. Contrary to existing myths, it can be managed and not terminal. We will discuss these myths in this article and bust them so that they don’t remain relevant.
Table of Contents
What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer can be best described as a disease in which there is an abnormal growth of cells in the lungs forming large masses known as tumours. It involves the uncontrolled cell division of cells within the lungs. Cells in the body regularly divide, making copies of themselves as part of the normal body function.
But occasionally, a mutation occurs, which leads to them making more of themselves when they shouldn’t. Uncontrolled cell division of damaged cells creates masses, or tumours, of tissues that stop your organs from working properly.
Lung cancer is the name given to cancers that start in the lungs, usually in the airways (bronchi or bronchioles) or small air sacs within the lungs. Healthcare providers refer to cancers which start in other places and move to the lungs as metastatic lung cancer.
Types of Lung Cancer
Many types of cancers affect the lungs, but they are generally classified into two main types: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer.
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
This is the most common type of lung cancer and amounts to over 80% of lung cancer cases. Some common types of NSCLC include adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Other less common types of NSCLC include adenosquamous carcinoma and sarcomatoid carcinoma.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
Small cell lung cancer grows more quickly and is generally harder to treat than NSCLC. They are mostly found as relatively small lung tumours that have already spread to other parts of the body. Specific types of SCLC include oat cell carcinoma and combined small cell carcinoma.
There are other types of cancer which start in or around your lungs, such as lymphomas (cancers affecting the lymph nodes), sarcomas (cancer in the soft tissues and bones) and pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the pleura lining the lungs). These diseases are treated differently and are not always called lung cancer.
Stages of Lung Cancer
There are five stages of lung cancer, each with several combinations of size and spread. The general stages of lung cancer are:
- Stage 0 (In-situ): Lung cancer is at the top of the lungs or the bronchus. At this stage, cancer has not spread to other parts of the lungs or outside of the lungs.
- Stage I: Cancer has not spread outside the lungs.
- Stage II: Cancer is larger than stage I, cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other structures or has more than one tumour in different lobes of the same lungs.
- Stage III: Cancer at this stage is larger than in stage II, cancer has spread to most nearby lymph nodes or structures, or there is more than one tumour in different lobes of the same lungs.
- Stage IV: At this stage, cancer has spread to the other lungs, the fluid around the lungs, the fluids around the lungs and fluids which surround the heart and other distant organs.
Risk Factors of Lung Cancer
There are many factors which can increase your risk of lung cancer. Smoking tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, or pipes is the biggest risk factor. Experts estimate that about 80% of deaths from lung cancer are due to smoking.
Other risk factors include:
- Exposure to secondhand smoking.
- Exposure to harmful substances such as air pollution, radon, asbestos, uranium exhaust, coal products and many others
- Exposure to previous radiation treatment to your chest
- Family history of lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
Lung cancer symptoms are similar to several less serious diseases, as many individuals do not show any symptoms till the disease reaches its advanced stages. However, symptoms in people begin to show during the early stages. For people who experience symptoms they include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse over time.
- Shortness of breath or trouble when breathing (dyspnea)
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Coughing up blood
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained fatigue
- Shoulder pain
- Swelling of the neck, face, arms, or upper chest due to superior vena cava syndrome
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Myths and Facts About Lung Cancer
The mortality rate for lung cancer remains very high, with much medical misinformation in the open. In 2020, lung cancer was second only to breast cancer, with about 2.21 million cases. Lung cancer was responsible for 1.8 million deaths globally.
Although lung cancer is prevalent, it is poorly understood. This part of the article will clarify certain myths about lung cancer while providing facts. The following are myths and facts about lung cancer;
Myth – Only smokers develop lung cancer
Fact – This is not correct, it is a hurtful myth that causes stigma to certain patients. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer but there are other factors that lead to lung cancer such as diesel exhaust, asbestos, drinking water filled with arsenic, etc.
Myth – There is no way to reduce the risk of lung cancer
Fact – There are many ways to reduce the risk of lung cancer. One major way is by prevention and cessation of smoking. It might not be easy to stop smoking but there are ways you can follow to stop it such as, chewing gum, eating fruits, changing or washing all yours clothes to get rid of the smell. Also, do not stay around smokers.
Myth – Only older adults develop lung cancer
Fact – This is not correct. However, about 40% of people diagnosed with lung cancer are people over the age of 75. Recently, younger individuals below 50 have been diagnosed with lung cancer, especially women.
Myth – Smoking cannabis does not increase lung cancer risk
Fact – Cannabis remains a risk factor of lung cancer based on limited studies. One challenge many researchers have faced is that most people who smoke cannabis also smoke tobacco.
Myth – Having lung cancer surgery makes your cancer spread
Fact – This assertion is false, as early surgery helps reduce the risk of cancer spreading. Lung cancer surgery is advised in the early stages of lung cancer. At the early stages, lung cancer can be cured.
In cases where the tumour is large, certain adjuvant therapy, such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy, can be used to reduce the tumour size before surgery.
Myth – Lung cancer is always terminal
Fact – This assertion is false. Early detection of lung cancer leads to a high cure rate of more than 60%. Even in cancers diagnosed in more advanced stages, long-term survival is possible in certain situations.
Myth – Air pollution isn’t a cause
Fact – Smoking tobacco remains the greatest threat for lung cancer, but air pollution is also a risk factor. Individuals living in areas with a lot of air pollution are more likely to get lung cancer than those living in cleaner environments.
Myth- Exercise doesn’t affect your risk of getting lung cancer
Fact – Exercising regularly may help reduce your risk of lung cancer, studies have supported this statement.. Exercising helps your lungs work better and also helps prevent heart disease, stroke and many other disease conditions.
Myth – Antioxidant supplements protect you
Fact – Research has shown an unexpectedly higher risk of lung cancer among smokers who took beta-carotene. If you must take antioxidants, you must speak to a doctor first.
Myth – Talcum powder is a cause
Fact – Research has shown no clear links between lung cancer and accidentally breathing in talcum powder. Individuals who work with chemicals such as asbestos and vinyl chloride are more likely to get lung cancer.
A lung cancer diagnosis can be a very stressful time for an individual. There is a lot of information out there which may become overwhelming. You need to understand that statistics do not always tell the full story, and you must make the right decisions at specific times.
You should enlist the help of trusted loved ones or a support group to help you through the entire process. Cancer treatment is, most times, a process, and it is very vital you take adequate care of yourself.
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