Lung Cancer: Diagnosis and Treatment Options
November 21, 2018
Millions of people are diagnosed with cancer each year, and while cancer treatment options are improving, it's important to be prepared for life after a cancer diagnosis. In today's post, we're specifically discussing lung cancer, one of the most common and deadly types of cancer.
Diagnosing Lung Cancer
Most people know that smoking greatly increases your risk of developing lung cancer. Current and former smokers are encouraged to receive lung cancer screenings depending on their age and smoking history. However, even non-smokers can develop lung cancer.
Typically, the first test will be a non-invasive imaging test, preferably a low-dose CT scan to look for any abnormal findings in the lungs. If there is a suspicious mass, it needs to be sampled to see if it is cancerous. When patients are coughing up sputum, the sputum can be examined under a microscope to reveal the presence of cancer cells. If either of these tests indicates cancer, a biopsy may be done in an attempt to diagnose lung cancer definitively. Biopsy means that a small sample of the suspicious mass will be taken from the lungs and examined in a lab. If lung cancer is diagnosed, then additional tests will be done to reveal what type of lung cancer is it, and how far throughout the body cancer has spread.
As cancerous tumors spread throughout the body, the disease progresses through four main stages. The cancer stage will determine which treatments are necessary for the patient.
For instance, non-small cell lung cancer has four primary stages:
- Stage 1: the tumors are contained to the lungs alone
- Stage 2: the tumors have spread to nearby lymph nodes, but still in chest only
- Stage 3: the cancer has spread to more lymph node stations in the chest, or lymph nodes above the collarbone
- Stage 4: the tumors have spread outside of the lungs/chest, and are elsewhere in the body (brain, bone, liver, etc)
What Are Common Lung Cancer Treatment Options?
Fortunately, today's medical knowledge and technology have made it possible to treat lung cancer aggressively. When surgery is necessary, a surgeon will operate and attempt to remove all of the cancer tissue that is present. Sometimes, surgery cannot be done. Chemotherapy treatment and radiation therapy are also common treatments. Both of these cancer treatments have proven to be extremely effective in fighting tumors and are sometimes used with surgery for maximum effectiveness. Depending on the type of lung cancer, patients may also receive targeted drug therapy. This form of cancer treatment involves using drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. New targeted treatments are being researched every day.
A lung cancer diagnosis can be very scary, especially when it is unexpected, but with an early diagnosis and the right treatment, many patients do well.