Lung cancer is a disease most often linked to smoking. After exciting advances in the knowledge and treatment of other cancer types such as breast cancer and bowel cancer, advances in the treatment of lung cancer do not seem to be at the same level. Research charities are now trying to redress the balance and continue research into the disease.
1. The number of incidences of lung cancer in the UK have decreased by 7% since the early 1990s. There has been a decrease in the number of men diagnosed with the disease, however the number of female diagnoses has risen. European age-standardised rates have echoed these findings with 29% of men’s diagnoses decreasing by 29% while women’s diagnoses have risen by 28%. Over the last decade (2003-2014), however age-standardised incidence rates have increased by 4% for both sexes, although taking the genders separately, this has meant a decrease of 8% for men and an increase of 18% for women.
2. 13% of all cancer cases in the UK are lung cancer and the people mostly likely to be developing the disease are women aged 85-89 years.
3. Risk factors for developing lung cancer include age, diet and lifestyle choices, the genetic make-up of a person and smoking. There is currently research into whether eating more fruit could help reduce the risk of cancer across Europe (The European Prospective Investigation of Cancer). There are also research studies into relationships between genetics, lifestyle and surroundings and whether they can help cause this disease. Inherited genes such as sNRSF AND p53 can also make it more likely that a person could develop lung cancer if these get damaged. Research has previously shown that hundreds of genetic mutations are caused by smoking.
4. There is no national screening programme for lung cancer. There are currently no tests that are sensitive enough to detect the disease. Research is currently examining a number of different tests to see if they could be used to check for lung cancer. As with all cancers, the earlier the disease is detected, the more likely it is that the patient could gain more life expectancy.
5. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD are more at risk of developing lung cancer. People who have chronic bronchitis or emphysema may also be more likely to develop the disease. Studies are currently examining whether it may be more cost-effective to screen such high-risk groups rather than everyone.
6. Symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breath, particularly if you are taking part in an activity that you used to be able to do without a problem, finding blood in your phlegm or coughing up blood or have a cough that you have had for a while. Other symptoms may include feeling tired all the time, losing appetite or experiencing unexpected weight loss, pain in the chest or shoulder, or experiencing a chest infection that isn’t clearing up. You need to see your GP if you experience any of these symptoms.
7. A tumour that grows at the top of the lungs is called a pancoast tumour. This can cause severe shoulder pain, or a pain that travels down the arm. The tumour can also press on or damage a nerve that travels from the neck to the side of the fact. The collection of symptoms of this tumour can include drooping or weakness of one eyelid, a small pupil in that eye and the inability to sweat on that side of the fact. This is known as Horner’s syndrome.
8. Some lung cancers produce hormones in the bloodstream. These might show as symptoms such as muscle weakness, drowsiness, dizziness, weakness or confusion, pins and needles or numb feeling in fingers or toes, blood clots or breast swelling in males. This is known as paraneoplastic syndrome.
9. Lung cancer is most commonly diagnosed through a chest x-ray. Consultants may also order a CT scan, a bronchoscopy under local or general anaesthetic or a biopsy. A bronchoscopy enables the doctor to check the insides of the lung airways, using a small camera which is carefully guided down the trachea.
10. If you are a smoker, then the best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to give up smoking. There are NHS-funded helplines to help you quit. Within 3 month of quitting smoking, the risk of a heart attack has started to drop and lung function will have improved. After 9 months, smoking-related sinus congestion or shortness of breath will have decreased. Energy should have returned and after a year, the extra risk of stroke, coronary heart disease or heart attack will have reduced to less than 50% of that of a smoker.