Lung Cancer

I asked my students in Summer 2013 to write a short report on an illness or disease. Received a lot of great submissions. One of them, who would like to stay anonymous, is reproduced below with permission:

Lung cancer is an illness in which the tissues of the lungs cannot control cell growth. When this growth is left untreated, it can start to spread the cancer beyond the lungs and into other parts of the body.

You are showing some of the symptoms of having lung cancer. This might be the reason that you are losing weight excessively and experiencing a shortage for breath. You also said that you have been coughing up blood, this is another common symptom. Other symptoms that have been associated with lung cancer are having a high fever, chest pain, clubbing of your fingernails, bone pain, and difficulty swallowing. Once these symptoms become visible, the cancer will usually show up on an X-ray. This is usually how we diagnose the disease. We may also require a CT scan of the chest area in order to get a more detailed diagnosis. We can also confirm whether or not you have lung cancer through a lung biopsy. This is a procedure in which we remove a tiny tissue sample by guiding a thin, lighted tube through the nose and down the air passages to the site of the tumor. If the biopsy confirms the presence of a tumor, we will perform other tests that will determine the type of lung cancer and how far it has spread. Imaging techniques such as PET scans, MRI of the brain, and or bone scans are also used to detect the spread of the cancer throughout the body.

Lung cancer develops as a result of genetic damage to the DNA which prevents the cells from functioning properly. There are various causes which can lead to this genetic damage. The most common cause for lung cancer is smoking cigarettes or inhaling the smoke through passive smoking. Radon, a colorless and odorless gas which can cause mutations to genetic materials that can become cancerous is also a major cause of lung cancer. Other common causes of lung cancer are air pollution, genetics, and exposure to particular metals, products of combustion, toxic gases, and rubber production.

Treatments for lung cancer vary from patient to patient based on the type and stage of their cancer, their current overall health, and their preferences. Some of the treatment options currently available are surgery, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, and radiation therapy. Patients also have the option to opt-out of any treatment and resort instead to relieving and treating the symptoms. The surgery is used to treat lung cancer by removing the part of or the entire lung, depending on how much of it is cancerous, along with a portion of healthy tissue. On the other hand, chemotherapy uses drugs to kill the cancer cells. This method takes place over a longer period of time. Target drug therapy is a fairly recent method which targets specific abnormalities present in the cancer cells. Examples of these drugs are Bevacizumab which is a drug that prevents the tumor from creating a new blood supply, Erlotinib a drug that obstructs the chemicals that are responsible for the growth and division of the cancer cells, and Crizotinib which stops the cancer cells from growing out of control and living longer than normal cells. Another treatment option, called radiation therapy, kills cancer cells by using X-rays and other high-powered energy beams.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to completely cure lung cancer. According to statistics, only 15% of people diagnosed with lung cancer survive for five years after diagnosis. Of course, this matter depends on several factors such as presence or absence of symptoms, tumor size, cell type, degree of the spread of the cancer, etc. However, as a general rule, it is a difficult disease to survive.

If you would like to learn more, take a look at the following references:

In tribute to my dad who is starting chemotherapy for newly-diagnosed lung cancer next week. Gia-you!


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