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Lung cancer is a condition in which malignant tumors develop in the lungs due to abnormal and uncontrollable cell growth. According to statistics from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention lung cancer is the type of cancer that causes most cancer related deaths in the United States among both women and men, it is also the second most diagnosed type of cancer. The four major strains of lung cancer are; adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, small cell undifferentiated carcinoma and large cell carcinoma (Mechanism of Action: Novel Mechanisms in Lung Cancer). These four strains account for ninety percent of lung cancer cases. Smoking is the biggest risk factor associated with lung cancer (Lauren G. Collins, 2007). Other causes or triggering factors include breathing second hand smoke and exposure to radon or asbestos. Some people are more genetically predisposed to be sick with cancer as compared to others, in cases where there is a family history of lung cancer it is advisable to take preventive measures and to be regularly screened.
Lung cancer mostly affects the lungs but it can also spread to other parts of the body. When the abnormal cells grow beyond control in the lungs they can attack nearby body tissues and form tumors. Malignant tumors in the lung tissues can spread throughout a patient’s body through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. It is possible for lung cancer to spread to almost all body organs but the most susceptible are the liver, adrenal glands and brain (Lu C, 2010).
Mechanism of Action
Lung cancer manifests differently at its various stages. Lung cancer progresses in stages. In the earliest stages of cancer infection only the lung tissues are affected and it is easier to treat cancer at this stage. As time progresses, if cancer is not diagnosed and treatment started the cancer advances to other stages. At advanced stages the cancerous cells have usually spread to other body organs in a process known as metastasis. It is usually easy for lung cancer to travel to other organs since lungs are supply oxygen to all cells in the body. The most susceptible organs are usually the brain, liver, adrenal glands and bones, this is because the tumor cells usually have receptors on their surfaces which match those of proteins created in the above organs. The above concept has been referred to as the soil and seed concept, with the organs being the soil and the tumor cells being the seed. At advanced cancer stages the odds of survival are substantially low and therefore timely diagnosis is important in the treatment of cancer.
At the onset of lung cancer there may be no symptoms, in fact most cancer patients are diagnosed with cancer in its advanced stages (Frederick, 2002). The symptoms also depend on which part of the lung is infected. The early symptoms of lung cancer include.
Ø Coughing; the person coughs persistently, the cough will occur over an extended period of time. The cough may be hoarse and deeper than a usual cough. As the disease progresses the person may cough out blood or phlegm.
Ø Experiencing difficulties during breathing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
Ø Infections of the respiratory system such as pneumonia or bronchitis may recur even after treatment.
Ø Lung cancer may result in a loss of appetite. The loss of appetite is quite drastic in some cases as to cause weight loss.
Ø Feeling fatigue or excessively tired all the time.
Ø In advanced stages, when the lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body a person may experience the following symptoms.
Ø Feeling pain in the bones, this is possible since lung cancer has the capacity to spread to and affect bones.
Ø Swelling of arms, face and the neck. There may be lumps in the neck and collar bone region.
Ø Experiencing headaches and dizziness.
Ø The limbs may become numb and weak.
Ø Symptoms of jaundice may be observable, in this case the infection has reached the liver.
It is vital to note that most lung cancer patients are diagnosed during advanced stages, at a point where treatment is harder. There are a variety of tests and methods used to screen for lung cancer which include;
A doctor will require an X-ray image of a person’s lungs if he suspects that they might have lung cancer. The X-ray when examined will show abnormal mass in the lung. The doctor may also use a Computed Tomography (CT) scan to check for abnormalities in lung tissue in case they are not clearly evident in the X-ray image.
One of the early symptoms of lung cancer being coughing out blood or phlegm, a doctor may check a sample of sputum under a microscope. This will at times reveal the presence of cancerous cells.
A sample of the abnormal cells growing in the lung tissue will be obtained and examined by a doctor. The doctor may conduct a biopsy in a number of ways depending on the equipment and facilities available. Needle biopsy is a medical procedure whereby a doctor uses a Computed Tomography scan or an X-ray image to guide a needle through the chest wall and into the lung tissue to collect a sample of cells. The sample of abnormal cells can also be obtained from lymph nodes, the liver or other tissues in cases where the cancer has spread.
This is a procedure whereby a doctor uses optical fiber equipment passed down a patient’s throat and into the lungs to examine areas of the lung with abnormal tissues
Once the doctor has confirmed that a person has cancer, other tests are performed to determine the extent or stage of the cancer. These tests include Medical Resonance Imaging (MRI), bone scans and Computed Tomography Scans (CT) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET).
The manner in which lung cancer treatment is handled depends on a number of factors such as the type of cancer, the stage and health of the patient. The various treatment options include;
A surgeon will remove the lung tumor and a section of healthy lung tissue. The options for surgery range from removing small sections of the lung that have the tumor, removal of the entire lobe of a lung to the removal of an entire lung. The surgeon might also remove lymph nodes from the chest. The surgical option is taken when the lung cancer is in the early stages and has not spread beyond the lungs (Horn L, 2015).
High power energy beams such as those of an X-ray are used to kill cancer cells. Radiation is directed to precise points on the body. Radiation is used to treat cancer which has advanced. This method is also used alongside surgery. This method is also used together with chemotherapy (Arriagada R, 2002).
Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy
This is a radiation treatment which is more intense in nature. Many beams of radiation from different angles are aimed at the cancer cells. It is usually used to treat lung cancer which has spread to other organs including the brain. This method is used in cases where surgery is not possible.
Targeted Drug Therapy
This treatment option fight cancer cells at the genetic level, it focuses on abnormalities within cancer cells. By targeting these abnormalities, the drugs can kill cancer cells. This treatment method is usually suitable for people with advanced lung cancer, whose cancer has recurred and in cases where the cancer cells have undergone certain mutations.
This method uses the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer. The immune system usually fails to attack cancer since the cancer cells produce proteins that blind the immune system, immunotherapy interferes with the production of those proteins. This treatment is suitable for people with advanced lung cancer.
This method uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs may be taken orally or intravenously. The drug regimen is administered over a series of weeks with recovery periods in between. This method is often used after surgery to eliminate any cancer cells that remain or before surgery so as to shrink tumors and make it easier to remove them surgically. This method is also suitable for treating cancer in advanced stages.
Lung cancer is currently the cause of a lot of deaths, however it is treatable. The key to treating cancer is awareness and early diagnosis. It is recommended that people should go for cancer screening annually so as to aid in early detection of cancer and successful treatment. Evaluation of lifestyle choices is important in regard to reducing exposure to risk factors, for instance quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to asbestos or radon will go a long way in reducing the risk of getting lung cancer. Environmental conservation is also a key factor in the fight against cancer, we should work towards less toxic emissions from industries and automobiles, and cleaner forms of energy. It is vital for people to have health care insurance since cancer treatment is very expensive and it may not be possible to access treatment without an insurance cover.
Arriagada R, G. P. (2002). Oxford Textbook of Oncology. Oxford University Press.
Frederick. (2002). AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. Berlin.
Horn L, L. C. (2015). Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. McGraw Hill.
Lauren G. Collins, M. C. (2007). Lung Cancer: Diagnosis and Management. American Family Physician, 56-63.
Lu C, O. A. (2010). Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. People's Medical Publishing House.
Mechanism of Action: Novel Mechanisms in Lung Cancer. (n.d.). Journal of Hematology Oncology Pharmacy.
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