Lung Cancer

General and more comprehensive text about cancer diseases, their behavior, causes and treatment can be found here.


Lung cancer is one of the most common cancer diseases worldwide. Unfortunately, it is often found in late stages when it can not be successfully treated. The tumor is more typical in men, but the incidence in women gradually increases.


There are various forms of lung cancer having various possible risk factors. The main causative factor is smoking and smokers represent the majority of patients with lung cancer. It should be noted, however, that some specific types of lung cancer occur preferably in non-smokers. Other risk factor is chronic inhalation of radioactive particles (workers in uranium mines) and metals (nickel, arsenic). Sometimes, the cause of the cancer is completely unknown. And now back to the smoking as the most common cause of lung cancer. It is reported that the risk of occurrence of lung cancer is very high in people, who smoked more than 150,000 cigarettes during their life. That may seem a lot of cigarettes, but when someone smokes 15 cigarettes a day from the age of 18, one gets to the number of 150 thousands at the age of 45.


Initially, the tumor is practically asymptomatic. It may cause episodes of cough due to irritation of local lung tissue, but chronic smokers usually do not pay attention to cough as they are used to it. Expectoration of blood is another sign, which should be regarded with extreme caution. It occurs when the tumor damages a local blood vessel causing leakage of blood. The amount of coughed up blood may differ from few bloody threads in sputum to much bigger volume. Tumors may irritate the pleura causing pleurisy and-or pleural effusion. Advanced symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain that gets worse during inspiration, weight loss, night sweats and overall fatigue.


Any patient with breathing problems should undergo at least a chest X-ray examination, especially a smoker and especially when coughing up blood. Any found lesion may be further examined by computed tomography. Bronchoscopy with bronchoalveolar lavage is also of a great importance. It is an endoscopic method when the flexible tube of the endoscope is introduced through the mouth, larynx and windpipe into the bronchial tree of the lungs. The endoscopic device is equipped with a camera and a light source. The doctor can examine any suspiciously looking tissue and take samples for histological examination. The bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) means administration of certain amount of fluid into the bronchi, which is quickly sucked away. The fluid can be sent for a cytological examination to rule out the presence of malignant cells.


The main way of prevention is not to smoke including avoiding of passive smoking. When working with any potentially dangerous materials, it is necessary to use proper protective equipment.


The early stages of tumors may be treated surgically, which usually includes removal of a part of the affected lung. Surgery is the only curative option. Some tumors respond initially well to radio- and chemotherapy, but they quickly recur and become resistant to these therapeutic methods. The prognosis is clearly poor in all patients, who can not be treated by surgery.


Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources