Lung cancer – Frequently Asked Questions
The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) shares the most common questions that are asked regarding lung cancer.
You can listen to this article below, or by using your favourite podcast player at pod.link/oncologybuddies
What is lung cancer?
Cancer that starts in the lungs; it may spread to lymph nodes or other organs in the body, such as the brain. Cancer from other organs also may spread to the lungs.
Lung cancers usually are grouped into two main types: small cell and non-small cell (including adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma). These two types grow differently and are treated differently. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer.
Lung cancer is more common among men and in SA features among the top five cancers affecting men.
What are the risk factors?
Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor. Using other tobacco products (cigars or pipes) also increases the risk. Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7 000 chemicals which many are poisons. At least 70 are known to cause cancer in people or animals.
People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from it than people who don’t smoke. The more years you smoke and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the risk goes up. Second-hand smoke from other people’s cigarettes (pipes or cigars) also causes lung cancer.Other risk factors include the effects of past cancer treatment and exposure to asbestos, radon gas and, in very rare cases, substances such as uranium, chromium and nickel.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Lung cancer typically doesn’t cause signs and symptoms in its earliest stages. Signs and symptoms typically occur only when the disease is advanced. These may include:
- A new cough that is persistent
- Changes in a chronic cough or smoker’s cough
- Coughing up blood, even a small amount
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Constant chest pain, especially when coughing
- Frequent chest infections, such as pneumonia, or an infection that doesn’t go away
- Swelling of the neck and face
- Loss of appetite
- Losing weight without trying
When lung cancer does cause symptoms, many people may mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or long-term effects from smoking.
How is lung cancer diagnosed?
If lung cancer is found at an earlier stage, when it’s small and before it has spread, it’s more likely to be treated successfully. Screening is recommended for certain people who smoke or used to smoke but who don’t have any signs or symptoms. If a person has lung cancer but doesn’t have any symptoms, this usually means there’s a chance to detect the disease early.
These are the possible tests you may undergo to diagnose lung cancer:
Physical examination includes your history of smoking and a chest X-ray.
Sputum cytology exam involves a microscopic examination of your mucus (sputum).
Bronchoscopy is a procedure to observe the bronchi of the lungs and collection of cells or small samples of tissues from the airways and lungs.
Imaging tests, such as a spiral CT- or PET scan, may also be used to look for signs of cancer. A CT scan is a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A PET scan is a computerised image of the metabolic activity of body tissues.
How do I quit smoking?
CANSA’s free online eKickButt programme helps with quitting smoking through a series of emails, surveys and downloads, and guides and mentors you, as you quit smoking. Go to www.ekickbutt.org.za
National Council Against Smoking: Quit line: 011 720 3145 or What’s App: 063 828 2909
Can I get support in the form of counselling?
CANSA offers psycho-social support to patients, caregivers and loved ones through its free CANSA Tele Counselling service (available in seven languages) and support groups (including WhatsApp and Facebook support groups). Contact CANSA Help Desk, toll-free on 0800 226622. Trained counsellors will support those in need.
The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) enables research in lowering cancer risk, educates about cancer symptoms, screening and risk reduction as well as provides care and support to all affected by cancer. Toll Free 0800 22 66 22 | www.cansa.org.za
This article is sponsored by Accord Healthcare in the interest of education, awareness and support. The content and opinions expressed are entirely the support group’s own work and not influenced by Accord in any way.
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