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Cancer is known as an unbiased killer that knows no race, age or sex of its victims. The disease, lung cancer, is the number one cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Lung cancer takes millions of lives each year, sometimes without the slightest warning. The cancer is usually first discovered on a routine chest X-ray or CT scan as a solitary small mass. The effect cancer has on an individual is defined by the severity of the cancerous symptoms and the treatment options chosen. There are various stages of lung cancer; its treatment options and effects of the disease can impact the individual and their loved ones. There are many options offered for people who are diagnosed with lung cancer. Many times when people are faced with something as serious as a deadly cancer, they may not know where to begin to look for help.
Stages of cancer are measured by the extent to which the cancer has spread in the body. Staging classifications are evaluated by the size of the cancer and its penetration into surrounding tissue ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). Staging of cancer is critical in estimating the prognosis of a given patient. Higher stage cancers have a worse prognosis than lower-stage cancers. ("Web Md," 2011). Non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) are assigned a stage from one to four in order of the severity. The cancer is confined to the lung in stage one. In stage two, the cancer is confined to the chest. The larger and more invasive tumors are classified as stage three ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). Stage four cancers have already spread from the chest to other parts of the body. Small cell lung cancers (SCLC) are staged using a two-tiered system. Limited-stage (LS) SCLC is cancer confined to its area of origin in the chest. In extensive-stage (ES) SCLC, the cancer has spread pass the chest to other parts of the body. ("Web Md," 2011).
The different treatment options for lung cancer involve surgical removal, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. ("Web Md," 2011). The decisions about treatments that are appropriate for the patient are based on the location and the health of the patient ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). Discovery of the cancer is sometimes called a coin lesion, since the round tumor looks like a coin on the x-rays ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). A common paraneoplastic syndrome associated with SCLC is the production of a hormone called adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) by the cancer cells, leading to oversecretion of the hormone cortisol by the adrenal glands ("Web Md," 2011). A frequent paraneoplastic syndrome seen with NSCLC is elevated levels of calcium in the bloodstream ("Web Md," 2011). Common symptoms seen with lung cancer are weight loss, weakness, and fatigue. Psychological symptoms like depression and mood changes are common in patients.
Therapy that may be prescribed is intended to be curative or palliative. Curative therapy is the removal of the cancer. Palliative therapy is when measures do not cure the cancer but could greatly reduce pain and suffering of the patient. Therapy added to enhance the effects of the primary therapy is called adjuvant therapy. For stage one and sometimes stage two NSCLC, surgical removal of the tumor is performed, which is the surgery treatment of choice for cancer that has not spread past the lung ("Web Md," 2011). Recurrent cancer confined to one spot in the lung can be treated with surgery. The removal does not always result in a cure ("Web Md," 2011). Surgery is not common with SCLC because they are not likely to be in one area for easy removal. The surgical procedure chosen depends upon the size and location of the tumor. Lung cancer surgery is a major surgical procedure that requires general anesthesia, hospitalization, and follow-up care for weeks to months ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). The risks associated with surgery are complications because of bleeding, infection, and complications of general anesthesia.
Radiation therapy can be given as treatment for both NSCLC and SCLC ("Web Md," 2011). Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill the dividing cancer cells and shrink the tumors ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). The radiation can be delivered externally or internally by placing radioactive substances in sealed containers in the body where the tumor is located. Radiation therapy only shrinks or limits a tumors growth when it is the only treatment given. For people who take radiation therapy, it can lead to long-term remission and palliation of the cancer ("Web Md," 2011). Radiation therapy does not carry the risks of major surgery. It can cause unpleasant side effects such as fatigue and lack of energy.
Chemotherapy is the administration of drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells by killing or preventing them from dividing. Chemotherapy is the top treatment choice for most SCLC cases, since the tumors are normally spread throughout the body ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). Chemotherapy is not always effective in treating NSCLC when it is the only treatment taken but can prolong survival in many cases. Chemotherapy can be given as pills, an intravenous infusion, or a combination of the two ("Web Md," 2011). Lung cancer that has returned after treatment is referred to as recurrent or relapsed ("Web Md," 2011). Recurrent tumors generally do not respond to the chemotherapeutic drugs previously administered ("Web Md," 2011). The drugs erlotinib and gefitinib can be used for treatment when patients respond to chemotherapy. A newer therapy used for different types and stages of lung cancer is called photodynamic ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). Photodynamic treatment is the use of a photosynthesizing agent injected into the bloodstream a few hours prior to surgery ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). There is no therapy currently available that is ultimately effective in treating lung cancer.
Symptoms of lung cancer varies depending on where and how widespread the tumor is. Warning signs of lung cancer are not always present or easily identified ("Web Md," 2011). A person with lung cancer may have no symptoms, symptoms related to the cancer, symptoms related to metastasis, paraneoplastic symptoms, and nonspecific symptoms ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). Most people who get lung cancer have no symptoms. The patients with small, single masses often have no symptoms at the time the cancer is discovered. Lung cancers are sometimes accompanied by symptoms that result from the production of hormone-like substances by the tumor cells. The growth of the cancer and invasion of lung tissues and surrounding tissue may interfere with breathing, leading to symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain, and coughing up blood. Lung cancer that has spread to the bones may produce excruciating pain at the sites ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). Cancer that has spread to the brain may cause a number of neurologic symptoms that may include blurred vision, headaches, seizures, or symptoms of stroke such as weakness or loss of sensation in parts of the body ("Web Md," 2011). Following surgery, patients may experience difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, pain, and weakness. The drugs used in chemotherapy also kill normally dividing cells in the body, leaving unpleasant side effects ("Cancer Treatment Centers of America," 2011). Damage to blood cells can result in increased of infections, difficulties clotting, fatigue, weight loss, hair loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and mouth sores.
Cancer is a very serious disease that should not be taken lightly. Cancer in general is a silent unbiased killer that takes the lives of millions of Americans each year. With the proper screenings that are available and preventative measures that can be taken, it can be detected and, occasionally, successfully treated in the early stages. There are various treatments options available for the treatment of lung cancer. The effect cancer has on an individual is defined by the severity of the cancerous symptoms and the treatment options chosen. Lung cancer not only affects the lives of the person diagnosed, it dramatically affects the family and others around the person.