Lung cancer

Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. Smoke and fine dust particles in the air are the main risk factors linked to the development of lung cancer. In its early stages, the disease often has hardly any symptoms. An important warning sign is a chronic cough that lasts for over four weeks. Depending on the type of lung cancer and how far it has progressed, the treatment can include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Lung cancer (bronchial carcinoma) is the second most common type of cancer among men and the third most common among women. In Switzerland it causes more deaths every year than any other type of cancer. Lung cancer usually develops from cells in the bronchial mucous membrane. Depending on what the cancer cells look like under the microscope, the disease is either classified as small cell bronchial carcinoma or non-small cell bronchial carcinoma. Around 85% of lung cancer diagnoses are non-small cell bronchial carcinoma.

Smoking and passive smoking are by far the most important lung cancer risk factors. Other known risk factors include radon, a radioactive noble gas that naturally occurs underground and is inhaled, as well as air pollution like fine dust and soot particles.

In its early stages, the disease often causes hardly any symptoms. Many tumours are therefore discovered during routine check-ups, or when the cancer has already reached an advanced stage. Ongoing problems with the respiratory tract (longer than four weeks) are a warning sign and should always be checked out by a doctor. Such problems include coughing, phlegm, hoarseness and chest pain. If you are coughing up blood or phlegm containing blood, you should see a doctor immediately. More general symptoms such as tiredness, weight loss and loss of energy can also point to lung cancer.

Diagnosing lung cancer first involves making an x-ray image of the lungs. If this image indicates any suspicious changes, further examinations are carried out such as computed tomography or an endoscopic visualisation of the inside of the lungs (bronchoscopy).

The treatment of lung cancer depends on the type of cancer and its stage of development. If it is possible to surgically remove the tumour, then the main form of treatment will be an operation. The decision to operate depends greatly on the location of the tumour and the patient’s general state of health. Non-small cell bronchial carcinoma can often be operated on, while unfortunately small cell bronchial carcinoma has usually already formed metastases by the time it is discovered. That is why chemotherapy and radiotherapy are primarily used to treat this type of tumour. Although advances have been made in the treatment of lung cancer thanks to new medications, if the disease is already in its late stage then palliative care is often the only treatment option.

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