Lung cancer

Lung cancer (also called bronchial carcinoma or lung carcinoma) is the second most common type of cancer among men and the third most common among women. It causes more deaths every year than any other type of cancer. Lung cancer usually develops from cells in the bronchial mucous membrane.

Distinguishing types of lung cancer

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. Non-small cell bronchial carcinoma accounts for some 85% cases of lung cancer. The chances of recovery with non-small cell lung cancer are frequently better.

Causes of lung cancer

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

First signs and symptoms

In its early stages, lung cancer often causes very few symptoms. This means that many tumours are only 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 by a doctor. They include coughing, phlegm, respiratory distress, hoarseness and chest pain.

If you are coughing up blood or blood-stained phlegm, you should see a doctor immediately. More general symptoms such as tiredness, weight loss and a lack of energy can also point to lung cancer.

Bronchial carcinoma is often discovered by chance as the symptoms were not identified earlier. Similar symptoms can also occur in the case of less serious diseases. 

Diagnosis

Lung cancer is initially diagnosed by taking an x-ray of the lungs. If this reveals any suspicious changes, further examinations (e.g. bronchoscopy) and medical imaging procedures (e.g. computed tomography (CT)), are carried out.

During a bronchoscopy, tissue samples are taken for subsequent analysis. Computed tomography provides a three-dimensional view inside the lungs. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is also used to diagnose the presence of metastases.

Treatment and chances of recovery

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, the main form of treatment will be an operation. The decision to operate greatly depends on the location of the tumour and the patient’s general state of health.

Surgery is often possible with non-small cell bronchial carcinoma, while small cell carcinoma has usually already formed metastases by the time it is discovered. This is why chemotherapy and radiotherapy are normally used to treat this type of tumour. One other common approach is to combine further types of treatment.

Despite advances in treating lung cancer with new medications, palliative care is often the only treatment option if the disease is already in its late stages.

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