Ditch smoking right away to reduce your lung cancer risk

Published on: 27 November 2021, 11:30 am IST
Did you know? Lung cancer is far more dangerous than you think! It causes more fatalities than colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancers put together!
Dr Viswesvaran Balasubramanian
Stop smoking, for your lung;s sake! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Lung cancer originates in the lungs, and smoking is considered as a possible reason for this illness. The nicotine and tar that are present in tobacco are considered to cause cancer. When one smokes, these substances remain in the lungs as residue, and over a period of time they trigger the formation of cancerous cells in the lungs. Lung cancer may show up, even in people who have quit smoking.

What are some of the symptoms of lung cancer?

In the early stage of lung cancer, there are no symptoms. However, the symptoms of lung cancer become visible only during the advanced stage. The symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Incessant cough, which is also known as smoker’s cough
  • Coughing blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of weight
  • Bone pain
  • Headaches.

If any of these symptoms are seen, it is better to consult the doctor for expert advice and suggestions. The doctor poses questions about your smoking habits, duration and number of cigarettes per day. Also, he/she will inquire about cough and other symptoms like chest pain, wheezing and loss of weight. With all the information gathered, the doctor can decide about the diagnosis, and the course of medication for each patient.

And what are some of the major causes of lung cancer?

In the majority of cases, smoking is considered to cause lung cancer. Smoking may be direct, or could be indirect exposure to smoke over a long period of time. Cigarette smoke contains cancer-causing substances (carcinogens). Smoking damages the lining of the lungs, and causes cancer. The body’s resistance mechanism helps in fighting the smoke and its harmful substances. However, exposure of lungs to smoke over a long period of time causes perennial damage to the lungs, with the fall-out seen as lung cancer.

Cancer of the lungs is of two types: small lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. An examination of lung cells under the microscope helps the doctor to decide on the type of cancer, and the course of treatment to be followed.

Risk factors

Smoking is the potential cause for lung cancer. Other risk factors for cancer include secondhand smoking (exposure to cigarette smoke), exposure to radon gas, asbestos and carcinogens, and a family history of lung cancer. Radon gas is produced by the breakdown of uranium in the soil, rock and water. Radon testing kits help in identifying the presence of radon in the air, at home as well as public places.

Reminder alert: Smoking is injurious to health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Radon can be present at permissible levels only. If the presence of this harmful substance in the air is more than the safe level, it may need immediate attention, and possible remedies need to be taken up. People living in homes with asbestos roofs are considered to be highly in danger of getting lung cancer. Asbestos contains arsenic, chromium and nickel, which develop the risk of lung cancer, when exposed over a long period of time.

How can it be diagnosed?

People who are habituated to smoking need to undergo annual computerized tomography (CT) scans to check the stage of lung cancer. People who are 55 and older, with smoking habits should be more careful, as they are more prone to lung cancer.

Three categories of tests are suggested, as part of lung cancer diagnosis. Image tests which include CT scan as well as X-ray. Sputum cytology studies the sputum under the microscope for possible presence of cancer cells. Biopsy of lung cells helps to know the presence of cancer, and its stage of development.

The bronchoscope helps the doctor to examine the abnormal areas of the lungs, and mediastinoscopy helps to make an incision at the base of the neck to collect the tissue samples from the lymph nodes. The CT Scan and X-ray are used to guide the needle through the chest wall and collect the suspicious cells.

The stage of lung cancer is decided only by studying the cancer cells of the lungs. At stage one of the lung cancer, cancer cells are limited to lungs only. Stage two of lung cancer shows cancer spreading to the chest wall and the diaphragm. Stage three of lung cancer shows the presence of a small tumor in the lymph nodes. In the final or fourth stage, cancer is seen to spread from the lungs to other parts of the body.

Smoking is an open invitation to lung cancer. Image Courtesy; Shutterstock

Treatment and drugs

Depending on the stage of cancer, the course of treatment is suggested. This may include one or more treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy or targeted drug therapy. Surgery for lung cancer may include removal of a small section of the lung, large portion, entire lobe or an entire lung. Surgery may carry the risk of bleeding and infection, and both have to be attended to promptly by a specialist doctor.

The lungs grow back to the normal position, even after surgical removal. Early recovery after cancer surgery may be ensured with the help of proper breathing exercises, under the guidance of a respiratory therapist. Palliative care is suggested by the doctor in the before and after cancer treatment process.

Palliative care helps to minimize the signs and symptoms of lung cancer.

Dr Viswesvaran Balasubramanian

Consultant Interventional Pulmonology, and Sleep Medicine Yashoda Hospitals Hyderabad

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