Lung cancer – a leading cause of death

November 12, 2012

Lung cancer – a leading cause of death

Lung cancer affects more people than all other cancers combined.

It is estimated that lung cancer causes more deaths related to cancer than breast cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancers combined; indeed, it is thought to cause more deaths amongst women than breast cancer.

In the twenty-year period between 1974 and 1994, the rate of deaths related to lung cancer increased by 150% amongst the female population of the U.S – amongst men the increase was only 20%. Research indicates that over 50% of new cases of the disease occur in women. These statistics seem to indicate that women are one and a half times more likely to develop lung cancer than men are – it is, currently, unclear why this is so although some researchers believe the reason may be genetic.

Women and cigarettes

It is widely recognised that tobacco use is a leading risk factor in the development of lung cancer; research also suggests that women smoke less and inhale less – and yet they are more likely to develop the disease. Research continues into this anomaly. It is estimated that at least 90% of lung cancers are related to tobacco use – making it essential that this habit is broken and all tobacco use stopped.

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer

Symptoms related to cancer of the lungs often take a long period to develop, with symptoms in the early stages of the disease being missed entirely. This means that diagnosis is often not made until the disease is well advanced which has a catastrophic effect on life expectancy. Some of the symptoms that may be noted and may require investigation include –

  • Persistent, intense cough
  • Ongoing pain in the chest, shoulder, neck, arm or back with no apparent cause – although this pain may worsen on coughing or breathing
  • Increased production of sputum – this may, or may not, contain flecks of blood; a change in the colour of the sputum
  • Breathlessness
  • Repeated bronchial infections

In late stage lung cancer other symptoms that may develop include -

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Generalised aches and pains in the joints and muscles
  • Unexpected bone fractures
  • Impaired neurological symptoms
  • Swelling of the face and neck
  • Unexplained, sudden weight loss

Once the cancer has metastasized from the lung, symptoms will increase and develop in other areas of the body –

  • Generalised physical weakness
  • Increased headache and joint pain
  • Increased, unexpected bone fractures
  • Increased bleeding, development of blood clots

Early detection

Anyone who experiences any of these symptoms on an ongoing basis should seek the advice of their medical practitioner in order to have further investigative tests carried out – particular if that individual is or has been a smoker. Early detection of the disease very often means the difference between life and death for those who develop cancer of the lung. Cancer that is found only in the lungs means a 50% chance of surviving or longer than five years. Screening methods for cancer of the lungs include imaging scans such as a CT scan and/or a PET scan – both of which can detect the disease much earlier than conventional screening methods, thereby increase the chances of survival.

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