Lung cancer

Lung cancer is behind the majority of cancer-related deaths in Switzerland. It is the third-most common type of cancer in women, and the second-most common in men. The most significant risk factor is smoking; passive smoking can also cause lung cancer. The treatment and prognosis differ depending on the area which is affected. Lung cancer can form in the airways and in the pulmonary tissue.

Causes

The causes are cancer-causing materials which are inhaled, in approx. 85 per cent of cases the contents of tobacco smoke (Benzpyrene) and also working materials such as arsenic compounds. Genetic predisposition also plays a role.

Depending on the type tissue in the tumour, a differentiation is made between small cell and non-small cell bronchial carcinoma.

Symptoms

There are no typical systems in the early stages of lung cancer. In the majority of cases, the illness is diagnosed late or even too late. This is why so many patients die of lung cancer.

Coughing, breathing difficulties and chest pain are unspecific systems; haemoptysis often occurs only at a very advanced stage. Never-ending cold symptoms (at the latest after 4 weeks of coughing) should be treated.

Symptoms in the later stages:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Breathing difficulties or fever
  • Expectoration of small blood clots – emergency
  • Treatment-resistant lung infections in patients over the age of 40 can indicate lung cancer
Diagnosis
  • Medical history, taking the symptoms into account
  • X-ray imaging of the lungs
  • Endoscopy of the bronchial tubes (bronchoscopy)
  • Tissue sample (biopsy)
  • Computed tomography
  • Ultrasound of the liver
  • Bone scintigraphy
  • Endoscopy of the mediastinium (mediastinoscopy) 

An exact diagnosis makes it possible to determine the stage of the disease. The classification is carried out in accordance with the TNM system; in the process, the size of the tumour, the affected lymph nodes and any possible offshoots (metastases) are considered.

Treatment

If the cancer is detected in good time (the lesion is small and the lymph nodes still have no offshoots), the affected part of the lungs can be removed if the general condition and the lung reserves of the patient allow this. If the tumour is already larger or there are offshoots (metastases), radiotherapy and chemotherapy must be carried out subsequent to any possible operation. However, it is often already too late for a curative treatment. In these cases, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are usually the treatment of choice. Life expectancy depends on the location of the tumour, the type of tissue, the stage of the disease and the patient’s general health condition.

Preventative measures

Immediate cessation of smoking or change of workplace where there is risk of this kind. Never-ending cold symptoms (at the latest after 4 weeks) should be treated, in particular for smokers.