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Lung cancer is a common and deadly form of cancer characterized by the development of cancerous cells in the lungs of the individual. This disease is associated with many negative health and social outcomes for the patient. There is no cure for lung cancer, although treatment can be offered to improve the patient’s quality of life and their survival rate. This paper will provide a description of lung cancer and document the risk factors for the disease. The treatment options for the disease and prevention methods will be discussed.
Description of the Disease
Lung cancer is the type of cancer characterized by the development of cancerous cells in the lungs of the individual. As the disease progresses, the malignant cells can spread to other body organs. The American Cancer Society places cancer as the third most common cancer and it accounts for 13% of new cancer cases.
While it is the third most common cancer, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US (Moyer 330). Zakowski declares that lung cancer “remains the largest cancer killer in the westernized world, with approximately 226000 new cases, and more than 160,000 deaths estimated for 2012 in the US” (1816).
There are several different histological forms of lung cancer and each unique type influences the treatment choice and prognosis. The first main type of lung cancer is non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and it makes up 85% of all the lung cancer cases (Bennett and White 50). The second type is small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and it accounts for 15% of the lung cancer diagnoses. NSCLC is further subdivided into “squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma” (Bennett and White 51).
Squamous cell carcinoma is caused by the mutation of the healthy cells found on the lining of the airways into malignant cells. The cancer starts near the center of the chest and spreads to the other parts of the lungs. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of NSCLC and it is closely associated with smoking. Adenocarcinoma develops when cancerous cells develop in the mucus producing cells in the lungs. This type of NSCLC starts from the outer regions of the lungs and it is common in non-smokers.
Current Statistics of those affected
Lung cancer is more prevalent in men than in women. This high representation of men can be explained by the fact that the smoking population is predominantly male. However, women who smoke are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer since women are more susceptible than men to the carcinogens in tobacco smoke (Bennett and White 51).
There is an increase in the prevalence of lung cancer as individuals get older. A report by the CDC reveals that incidents of lung cancer are most common in adults aged 55 years and above (Moyer 334). Diagnosis for lung cancer peaks between the ages of 74 and 84 years.
The primary risk factor for lung cancer is cigarette smoking and up to 90% of lung cancer cases are caused by using tobacco products. Inhalation of tobacco smoke causes lung cancer since this smoke is comprised of a toxic mixture of thousands of chemicals.
The risk for lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes and the duration of time that a person smokes. As far back as the 1950s, researchers had identified that the risk of developing lung cancer “increases proportionally to the amount of cigarettes smoked, with those who smoke 25 or more cigarettes each day being 50 times more likely to develop lung cancer compared with non-smokers” (Bennett and White 51).
Exposure to naturally occurring substances such as Radon gas is also a significant risk factor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documents that naturally occurring Radon might be trapped in houses where people become exposed to it (par. 8). Since the gas is odorless and invisible, people might be subjected to high Radon levels without knowing it.
Exposure to toxic substances such as diesel fumes and asbestos dust also significantly increases the chances of an individual developing lung cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that genes play a minor role in causing lung cancer (par. 15). While this risk factor is rare, there are cases where lung cancer is inherited. An individual from a family with a history of lung cancer is therefore more likely to develop the disease that one who is from a family without a history of this disease.
Lung cancer is detected through screening of a person for the disease. Screening can be done using Low Dose Computed Tomography, chest radiography, and sputum cytologic evaluation. However, screening with Low Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) is more effective since this method has a greater sensitivity for detecting early stage cancer. Zakowski documents that individuals who are screened with LDC have a 20% lower risk of dying from the disease than those who are screened using chest radiography, and sputum cytologic (1816).
Medication and Treatment
Chemotherapy is the most common treatment for patients with small cell lung cancer. Chemotherapy is chosen over surgery since the cells are too small to be detected through imaging. In addition to this, there is a likelihood that the cells have broken away and started moving to other organs (Bennett and White 55). Chemotherapy is able to treat cancer cells throughout the body since it circulates in the bloodstream.
Patients who respond positively to chemotherapy are offered sequential consolidation chest radiotherapy to improve on the positive results of the chemotherapy. In chest radiotherapy, the beam is directed to the area where the cancerous cells have been detected.
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Patients receiving chemotherapy to treat lung cancer often experience a range of physical and psychosocial problems. The physic problems include coughs, pain, fatigue, and decreased functional capacity. Psychologically, lung cancer patients experience increased anxiety and depression levels.
For non-small cell lung cancer, surgery is the mainstay of treatment. Specifically, this treatment is recommended for patients diagnosed with Stage I-IIIa NSCLC. In these stages, the tumor can be up to 7cm and it can be invading the chest wall, diaphragm, or phrenic nerve. Surgery is undertaken to remove the cancerous tumor. Bennett and White state that surgery is a potentially curative treatment since it can lead to the complete elimination of the cancer (55).
Complete excision of the tumor through surgery often leads to complete curing. However, a patient must demonstrate fitness in order to be considered a candidate for surgery. While research is ongoing, there is currently no cure for late stage lung cancer. For patients with advanced lung cancer, there is no hope of cure and the goal of treatment efforts is to improve the patients’ quality of life and possibly keep him alive for longer.
In addition to medication, physical exercise has beneficial effects for cancer patients. Research by Quist reveals that physical exercise for advanced stage lung cancer patients improves the quality of life and reduces symptoms and side effects for the patients (9). Physical exercise has some notable merits, including improving the physical capacity of the lung cancer patient. The patient’s psychological outcomes are also improved as the anxiety and depression levels are decreased through exercising.
The Prognosis for lung cancer is poor since almost all patients suffering from this disease succumb to it in a relatively short time. Moyer documents that about 90% of individuals diagnosed with lung cancer die of the disease (331). The survival rate for lung cancer patients is currently 5 years. This is one of the lowest survival rates of all types of cancers, making lung cancer one of the deadliest cancer forms. The low survival rate of lung cancer patients is attributed to the fact that most patients are unfit for surgery.
Quist reveals that in most cases, surgery is required to manage lung cancer (1). However, most patients are not surgical candidates since the condition is discovered at a late stage. Quist reveals that most patients with lung cancer have reduced physical capacity and functional capacity, making them poor candidates for surgery (1).
The best prognosis is achieved for patients whose cancer is discovered at an early stage. The Early state includes non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) states I-IIIa and Small Cell Lung Cancer limited disease. For patients with lung cancer at this stage, treatment is provided with curative intent. Patients with advanced lung cancer have an even lower prognosis.
Quist states that patients with NSCLC IIIb-IV survive for an average of 10-13 months after diagnosis (3). This observation is corroborated by Bennett and White, who document that up to 80% of patients with advanced lung cancer will die within one year of diagnosis (51).
Considering the poor prognosis of lung cancer, the most effective way of dealing with the disease is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Research clearly shows that smoking is the most important risk factor for lung cancer. The most important prevention method is mitigating or altogether stopping smoking among members of the general population. Moyer documents that smokers should be advised to quit smoking and measures should be taken to prevent non-smokers from being exposed to tobacco smoke (332).
Treatment options to assist in cessation can also be provided by health care service providers and the government. A lot of support is provided for individuals who want to quit smoking. The CDC provides a wide range of resources to assist in smoking cessation, including behavioral counseling and support.
The survival rate for lung cancer patients is significantly higher if the disease is diagnosed at an early stage. The delay in diagnosis is caused by a lack of awareness of the risk of lung cancer as well as the absence of symptoms during the initial stages of the disease. As such, regular screening for high-risk persons is recommended. Through regular screening of high-risk persons, a substantial number of lung-cancer related deaths can be prevented (331).
Bennett, Alison and John White. “Improving care and quality of life for patients with lung cancer.” Nursing Standard 28.9 (2013): 50-58. Web.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lung Cancer: Basic information. 2013. Web.
Moyer, Virginia. “Screening for Lung Cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement.” Annals of Internal Medicine 160.5 (2014): 330-340. Web.
Quist, Morten. “Exhale exercise as a strategy for rehabilitation in advanced stage lung cancer patients: a randomized clinical trial comparing the effects of 12 weeks supervised exercise intervention versus usual care for advanced stage lung cancer patients.” BMC Cancer 13.1 (2013): 1-14. Web.
Zakowski, Maureen. “Lung Cancer in the Era of Targeted Therapy.” Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine 137.12 (2013): 1816-1821. Print.