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Overview of Lung Tumour: Types, causes, symptoms and treatment

Dr. Ajay KohliNov 21, 2022

According to World Cancer Research Fund International, it is estimated that over 2.2 million people were reported to develop Lung Cancer in 2020, making it the most common cancer in men and the second most common cancer in women worldwide. The disease (Lung Tumour/Cancer) spreads quickly and usually has no or barely noticeable symptoms at its onset. Several types of Lung Tumours grow and spread in different ways while being treated differently. Read ahead for an overview of this disease.

Lung Tumour

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What is Lung Tumour?

Lung Tumours are abnormal cells of the lungs or airway tract that grow too quickly without dying. They can be either non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Benign Lung Tumours are often slow growing and do not require removal or treatment unless they are painful or disfiguring. Malignant Lung Tumours, on the other hand, are rare and aggressive, often leading to death without a prompt diagnosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Lung Tumour?

Lung Tumours are not always accompanied by symptoms in the initial stages. However, if you develop symptoms, speak with your doctor to ensure a proper diagnosis, as they can be confused with other respiratory diseases.

A Lung Tumour in its early stages will cause the following.

  • A mild persistent cough that does not improve

  • Strained breathing or shortness of breath or wheezing

  • Hoarseness of voice

  • Rattling sounds in the lung

Later, when the tumour has spread throughout the lungs or other body parts, you may experience the following symptoms.

  • Sustained loss of appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Frequent lung infections like pneumonia or bronchitis

  • Severe chest pain that becomes worse with cough and laugh

  • Coughing up blood (haemoptysis)

  • Worsening headaches

  • Weakness in one arm

  • Swollen lymph node just above the collarbone

  • Seizures

  • Shoulder or arm pain

  • Bone pain and tenderness

  • Swallowing difficulty

  • Puffiness in the face and neck

  • Droopy eyelids

What causes a Lung Tumour?

Lung Tumours can affect anyone. However, in almost 90% of cases, malignant Lung Tumours are caused by smoking tobacco, particularly cigarettes. Both smokers and second-hand smokers (who breathe in the smoke that comes from a burning cigarette or other tobacco product or exhaled by smokers) are at risk of developing the condition. 

Cigarette smoke, which has more than 60 cancer-causing substances (carcinogens), induces unnatural changes in your lung cells from the first second you inhale it. Over time, with repeated exposure, the normal cells that line the lungs become increasingly damaged and act abnormally, causing you to develop cancer.

Some forms of Lung Tumours can also develop without a person ever smoking or being exposed to second-hand smoke. No apparent causes are known in such cases, but they are more likely to occur among young adults with genetic mutations.

Types of Lung Tumour

Based on the microscopic appearance of tumour cells, several types of lung cancers exist, with some being more frequent than others. 

Lung Cancer can be broadly classified into two main types: small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Both these types have different treatments and outlooks (prognosis). As a result, making a distinction between the two becomes exceptionally crucial.

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): An estimated 80% to 85% of Lung Cancer cases are NSCLCs. They usually develop slowly and often cause no or very few symptoms until later stages.

NSCLCs are again divided into three subtypes: adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinomas, and squamous cell carcinoma. 

  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC): This type represents fewer than 20% of all Lung Cancers and is usually more aggressive than NSCLC, requiring immediate treatment. SCLC is always caused by cigarette smoking. SCLC has two main subtypes: small cell carcinoma (oat-cell cancer) and combined small cell carcinoma.

Treatment for Lung Tumour

The following treatments may be given either alone or in combination.

  • Surgery: It is the standard treatment for early-stage tumours that have not spread beyond nearby lymph nodes. However, it may not be the best option for tumours that have spread too far from their origin. 

  • Chemotherapy: This treatment involves administering a combination of powerful cancer-killing drugs over a certain number of cycles based on the type and grade of cancer. In most cases, four to six treatment cycles are delivered over three to six months.

  • Radiation therapy: In this treatment, pulses of powerful x-rays or other forms of radiation are used to kill cancer cells. 

Diagnosis of Lung Tumour

In most cases, Lung Tumours are detected coincidentally when x-rays or CT scans are performed for another reason. When suspected, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical examination. At this point, you should disclose any smoking habit you may have. You may also be asked about other factors that could put you at risk for developing Lung Tumours, such as chemical exposure.

Using a stethoscope, your doctor will listen for fluid around the lungs to determine if it is cancerous. And to confirm the diagnosis, they may also do these tests.

  • Chest x-ray

  • CT scan of the chest

  • MRI of the chest

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

  • Bone scan

  • Complete blood count (CBC)

  • Sputum cytology to look for cancer cells

  • Thoracentesis for the sampling of fluid build-up around the lung

Additionally, you may need to undergo a biopsy to determine your cancer type. And to do so, your doctor may follow any of the following ways.

  • Lung needle biopsy

  • Bronchoscopy combined with biopsy

  • Endoscopic bronchoscopy ultrasound (EBUS) with biopsy

  • Open lung biopsy

  • Mediastinoscopy

  • Closed needle pleural biopsy

Further imaging tests will be performed if a biopsy reveals cancer to determine the size and spread of the tumour. Your doctor will use this information to guide your treatment and do further follow-up.

How can I prevent Lung Tumours?

Although Lung Tumours cannot be prevented with absolute certainty, you can still take some specific steps to reduce your chances of developing them. These steps are as follows.

  • Quit smoking if you do

  • Limit or stop drinking alcohol

  • Take care not to breathe in smoke from people who smoke tobacco

  • Avoid exposure to toxic chemicals and industrial effluents 

  • Get your home tested for radon

  • Eat a well-balanced and healthy diet

  • Participate in moderate-intensity workouts for at least 150 minutes weekly (2 hours, 30 minutes)

Risk Factors for Lung Tumours

Like other cancers, Lung Tumours also have multiple risk factors, with smoking tobacco being the most important. Others include the following.

  • Age (people 60 years or older are at increased risk)

  • Gender (men are more at risk than women)

  • Exposure to second-hand smoke

  • Heavy alcohol use

  • Breathing in radon gas present in poorly ventilated space

  • Inherited genetic mutation

  • History of lung diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia 

  • Elevated levels of air pollution

  • Exposure to radioactive ores, diesel exhaust, and other toxic chemical substances like asbestos, cadmium, arsenic, etc., at work

  • Previous radiation therapy to the lungs

  • Overdosing on beta-carotene supplements

  • Drinking arsenic-contaminated water

  • Physical inactivity

  • Diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables

  • Smoking marijuana or e-cigarettes

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to Lung Tumour.

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Is Lung Tumour curable?

It is possible only if the patient has small, early-stage Lung Cancer, where cure rates can reach 80% to 90%.

Who should be screened for Lung Tumours?

In general, screening is recommended for those who meet the following criteria.

  • Age between 55 and 80 years old

  • A history of smoking one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years

  • No CT scan in the past year

What is targeted therapy?

It is a form of cancer treatment that uses drugs to target specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment required for cancer cells to grow and divide. The therapy primarily benefits patients with genetic mutations of EGFR, ALK, ROS1, and BRAF. 

What are my chances of survival if I am diagnosed with malignant Lung Cancer?

Frankly, it is just 18.6 %, as most Lung Cancers are diagnosed after spreading outside the chest. But again, how well you do depends on how far the tumour has spread at the time of diagnosis. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chance of survival.

What side effects should I expect from my cancer treatment?

Lung Cancer and its treatments can have multiple side effects impacting your quality of life. Just like no two cancer patients have the same treatment response, their side effects may also vary based on the type of treatment they receive. The most common side effects of Lung Cancer treatment may include the following.

  • Pain and discomfort

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Weight loss

  • Breathing problems

  • Stomach pain

  • Infection and bleeding

  • Hair loss

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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