What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is a serious health issue. It involves a malignant tumour that is formed in the lungs or the trachea. The tumour cells often also spread to other parts of the body via the lymph nodes and blood vessels. This results in metastases of lung cancer.

Source: longkankernederland.nl

How common is lung cancer?

Over the past year, approximately 10,000 people died from lung cancer in the Netherlands. Approximately 1 in 5 people with cancer will die from lung cancer. Lung cancer is often a process that takes years before resulting in symptoms that cause people to visit their GP.

What are the causes of lung cancer?

Lung cancer is normally caused by smoking. But the disease is also encountered in people who have never smoked. In such cases, lung cancer is caused by spontaneous changes in the cells. Lung cancer can also be caused by passive smoking, air pollution, inhalation of fine particles or working with hazardous substances. The genetic material of lung cells is altered if hazardous substances are inhaled over a long period of time. This disrupts cell division and results in malignant cancer cells.

The four stages of lung cancer

The stage of lung cancer also says something about the size of the tumour and how much it has spread throughout the body. 4 stages are used to indicate the extent to which the lung cancer has spread.

  • Stage I: the tumour is present in one lung
  • Stage II: the tumour is present in one lung, but also in lymph nodes or tissue located near the lungs.
  • Stage III: the tumour in the lung as metastasised to the larger lymph nodes and the chest cavity
  • Stage IV: the tumour in the lung has also metastasised to other parts of the body (for example, the liver, bones, etc.)

Symptoms of lung cancer

People with lung cancer often have unnoticeable symptoms at the start of their illness, such as coughing and tiredness. Older people often think that these symptoms are age-related. This means patients often visit their GP too late and that the diagnosis of lung cancer also occurs (too) late.

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • A persistent itchy cough that lasts for longer than 9 weeks
  • A little bit of blood in coughed-up mucus
  • Inflammation of the airways, which continues to persist even after antibiotics
  • Increased mucus forming
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness without throat paid
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling in the face and neck.

These symptoms are often associated with a poor physical condition, including:

  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss without a clear reasons
  • Loss of appetite

These symptoms are fairly general and can also be caused by something else. This means they do not necessarily point to lung cancer. Nonetheless, it is best to visit your GP if one or more of these symptoms continues to persist.

Can lung cancer be treated?

Yes, lung cancer can be treated but the chances of successful treatment are determined by the stage in which the lung cancer is detected. By the time that people go to their GP with symptoms, it appears that the lung cancer is already in a difficult to treat stage. As a result, only 17 of every 100 people who are diagnosed with lung cancer will still be alive after 5 years. However, there is a major difference between lung cancer that is detected at an early stage and lung cancer that is detected at a later stage. If lung cancer is detected in an early stage (stage I), approximately 60 in every 100 people will still be alive after 5 years. If lung cancer is detected in a late stage, when it has sometimes already spread across the whole body (stage IV), only 3 in every 100 people will still be alive after 5 years despite treatment.

What are the possible treatments?

There are various treatments for lung cancer. The doctor will compile a treatment plan based on the type of lung cancer, the stage of the lung cancer, and potential metastases. The various possibilities can be found below.

The treating physician will only propose an operation if the whole tumour can be removed. Read further...

Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses cell-destroying medicines. These medicines are administered in courses. Read further...

Radiotherapy is based on radiation. Treatment with radiotherapy can be carried out in various ways. Read further...

Specific therapy
If the lung tumour has certain characteristics, the treating physician will prescribe special medicines and adopt a specific approach for this type of cancer. Read further...

Endobronchial therapy
The doctor will use a bronchoscope to perform this treatment in the airways. This is referred to as Endobronchial therapy. Read further...

Immunotherapy is a treatment for lung cancer which is developing very quickly. It is also referred to as biotherapy. Immunotherapy makes the immune system stronger so that it can destroy cancer cells. Read further...

Experimental medicines (scientific research)
The scientific research performed by some special centres involves investigating experimental medicines. Read further...