As November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we want to spread awareness and education about lung cancer - the different types, signs & symptoms and risk factors. All information is adapted from the Irish Cancer Society.
What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer is the 5th most common cancer in Ireland, with over 2,700 people being diagnosed each year. It affects both women and men, usually over the age of 50.
Lung cancer is when the cells in your lung change and start to grow out of control. These cells increase to form a tumour. Cells from this tumour may spread to other parts of the body.
Lung cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, depending on the type and where it is found.
What are the types of lung cancer?
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
Most lung cancers are this type. Some NSCLC cancers are linked to genetic changes (mutations) – which are not inherited. When these mutations occur, they affect the normal activity of the gene and lung cancer can develop. Mutations in the EGFR, KRAS, ROS1 and ALK genes are common in
lung cancers – particularly in adenocarcinomas (see below).
There are four main types of NSCLC:
- Adenocarcinoma: This is the most common type of lung cancer and is often found in the mucous-making glands that line the airways.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of cancer starts in squamous cells, which are flat cells that line the inside of the airways.
- Large cell carcinoma: This cancer may appear in any part of your lung. The cells are large and round when viewed under the microscope.
- Not otherwise specified (NOS): This is when the doctors cannot be sure which type of non-small cell lung cancer it is.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
About 1 in 7 of all lung cancers is the small cell type. Small cell lung cancer begins in cells around the bronchi (airways) called neuroendocrine cells (NETs). SCLC cells appear small and round when looked at under a microscope and tend to grow quickly. They often spread to lymph nodes and other areas such as your bones, brain, adrenal glands and liver.
Small cell lung cancer is nearly always caused by smoking.
This rare cancer affects the protective linings that cover your lungs. Usually it happens when someone is exposed to a chemical called asbestos.
Symptoms of lung cancer
- Difficulty breathing
- A cough that doesn’t go away or a change in a long-term cough
- Repeated chest infections that won’t go away, even after antibiotics
- Feeling more tired than usual
- A hoarse voice
- Coughing up blood-stained phlegm
- Pain in your chest, especially when you cough or breathe in
- Loss of appetite / weight loss
- Swelling around your face and neck
- Difficulty swallowing
All these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, but it’s important to go to the GP and get any unusual changes checked.
Can I be screened for lung cancer?
Testing for lung cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. Currently there is no national screening programme for lung cancer in Ireland, if you notice any of the symptoms above or if you have any concerns we recommend that you speak with your GP.
What increases my risk of lung cancer?
Smoking causes about 9 in every 10 lung cancers. The risk increases with the amount of time you have smoked, the number of cigarettes you have smoked and if you started young. Low-tar cigarettes do not reduce your risk. Those who smoke pipes and cigars have a lower risk of lung cancer than cigarette smokers, but they are at a much greater risk than non-smokers.
The most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to stop smoking. Check out our articles to help get you started, or pop into your local CarePlus Pharmacy and ask our friendly team about how to kick-start your quitting.
Inhaling other people’s cigarette smoke increases the risk of lung disease and cancer. But the risk is still much less than if you smoke yourself.
Certain chemicals such as asbestos, uranium, metal dust and fumes, nickel, paints, diesel exhaust, nitrogen oxides. These risks are higher if you smoke as well.
May be a cause in countries where it is particularly bad.
Radon is a radioactive gas found naturally in the soil. But if your home traps it inside, it can build up and cause harm. You can check the level of radon in your area on the Environmental Protection Agency website.
If you have a parent, brother or sister who has had cancer which started in their lung, your risk is doubled.
Having a risk factor doesn’t mean you will definitely get cancer. Sometimes people with no risk factors get the disease. If you’re worried, talk to your GP or talk to one of our cancer nurses. Call the Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre.
The Irish Cancer Society provide an online Lung Health Checker – if you are concerned about the health of your lungs, visit the link below.
Information from Irish Cancer Society