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Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer.
Around 47,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year in the UK.
There are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer, but many people with the condition eventually develop symptoms including:
- A persistent cough;
- Coughing up blood;
- Persistent breathlessness;
- Unexplained tiredness and weight loss;
- An ache or pain when breathing or coughing;
- You should see a doctor if you have these symptoms.
Types of lung cancer
There are two main forms of primary lung cancer. These are classified by the type of cells in which the cancer starts growing. The types are:
- Non-small-cell lung cancer. The most common form, accounting for more than 87 percent of cases;
- Small-cell lung cancer – a less common form that usually spreads faster than non-small-cell lung cancer.
Lung cancer patients
Lung cancer mainly affects older people. It’s rare in people younger than 40.
More than four out of 10 people diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK are aged 75 and older.
Although people who have never smoked can develop lung cancer, smoking is the most common cause (accounting for about 72 percent of cases).
This is because smoking involves regularly inhaling a number of different toxic substances.
How is lung cancer diagnosed?
Patients are checked for lung cancer via three techniques. The first is taking an X-ray of the lungs, and checking this to reveal any abnormal masses or nodules. A CT scan could also be used to check for lesions an X-ray may not detect.
If a patient is coughing up blood, then this can also be checked for lung cancer cells. Doctors will look at the liquid under a microscope to detect the cancerous cells.
If cancer is suspected, a biopsy may be performed. This is where some cells from an abnormal mass in the lungs are removed and tested for cancer.
Treatments for the disease
Treatment depends on the type of mutation the cancer has, how far it’s spread and how good your general health is.
If the condition is diagnosed early and the cancerous cells are confined to a small area, surgery to remove the affected area of the lung may be recommended.
If surgery is unsuitable due to your general health, radiotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells may be recommended instead.
If the cancer has spread too far for surgery or radiotherapy to be effective, chemotherapy is usually used.
There are also a number of medicines known as targeted therapies.
They target a specific change in or around the cancer cells that is helping them to grow.
Targeted therapies cannot cure lung cancer but they can slow its spread.