The rush of the holiday season has officially begun, and with it comes hustling and bustling, shopping and visiting. With all of the rushing around, it’s easy to forget to stop and just take a moment to breathe. That moment of relaxed breathing is generally taken for granted, but for a lung cancer patient, those moments are precious.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women in the United States. It kills more than the next three most common cancers combined (colon, breast and prostate.) The signs and symptoms of lung cancer can take years to develop or might not appear until the cancer has advanced.
Though there are different causes of lung cancer, smoking is responsible for close to 90 percent of cases.
Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. The Great American Smokeout is Nov. 21. For tips from the American Cancer Society on participating and quitting smoking, visit www.cancer.org. If you notice signs or symptoms or have questions about risk factors, prevention or treatment, discuss them with your doctor. Knowledge is power.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: According to www.lung
cancer.org, some of the symptoms of lung cancer in the chest are: coughing, especially if it persists or becomes intense; pain in the chest, shoulder, or back unrelated to pain from coughing; a change in color or volume of sputum; shortness of breath; changes in the voice or being hoarse; harsh sounds with each breath (stridor); recurrent lung problems, such as bronchitis or pneumonia; coughing up phlegm or mucus, especially if it is tinged with blood; and coughing up blood.
If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, other symptoms can include: loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss; muscle wasting (also known as cachexia); fatigue; headaches, bone or joint pain; bone fractures not related to accidental injury; neurological symptoms, such as unsteady gait or memory loss; neck or facial swelling; general weakness; bleeding; and blood clots.
DIAGNOSIS: Lung cancer is diagnosed through a biopsy. This procedure may be done by passing a needle through the skin and into the lung to remove a small portion of the suspected tissue. In other instances, the biopsy can be performed through a bronchoscopy. Doctors can determine the type of lung cancer by examining the biopsied tissue.
There are two major types of lung cancer: non-small-cell lung cancer and small-cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for 85 percent of lung cancer. Non-small-cell lung cancer is staged from categories of I – IV, with the stage depending on if the cancer has remained in the lungs or has spread to other parts or organs of the body. Typically, the earlier the stage, the better the prognosis, so it is imperative to discuss unusual symptoms with your doctor.
Small-cell lung cancer makes up the remaining 15 percent of lung cancer cases. Smoking causes this type of lung cancer more so than the non-small cell and tends to grow more rapidly and spread to other parts of the body earlier than its counterpart. Small-cell lung cancer is either limited, remaining in one part of the chest, or extensive and spreading.
TREATMENT: Non-small-cell lung cancers are usually treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation before surgery, called neoadjuvant treatment, may reduce the size of the tumor making it easier to remove during surgery. Chemotherapy after surgery, called adjuvant treatment, may help the cancer from returning. Regardless of stage, chemotherapy is an essential part of treatment for patients with small cell lung cancer. In more than half of patients with small cell lung cancer, the cancer spreads to the brain. Because of this, preventative radiation therapy may be used.
RISK FACTORS: The most common risk of developing lung cancer is smoking. Exposure to second-hand smoke can increase a nonsmoker’s risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent over those with no exposure. According to www.lungcancer.org, other risk factors include exposure to asbestos, radon, industrial substances, radiation to the chest and air pollution.
ASSISTANCE: If you have been diagnosed with any form of cancer, the Savannah River Cancer Foundation can help. The foundation helps anyone residing in Aiken, Allendale, Barnwell and Edgefield counties with any type of cancer being treated at any facility, regardless of the patient’s age. Financial assistance is available for help with transportation to and from cancer treatments and with cancer medication cost to patients who qualify. Regardless of income, the foundation also provides referrals to other organizations that provide assistance and maintains the Web site www.savannahrivercancerfoundation.org.
Financial assistance applications can be found on the foundation’s Web site, or patients can call (803) 649-5433 to request an application by mail. The Savannah River Cancer Foundation is at 235 Barnwell Avenue, NW, Aiken, SC 29801. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.