Lung (Non Small Cell) Cancer

Types of Cancer

Lung Cancer ā€“ Non-small Cell

Lungs are one of the most critical organs in the human body, they work by absorbing in oxygen from the air when a person inhales, delivering this oxygen into the bloodstream and throughout the body. To release the carbon dioxide that the body produces with this oxygen, the bloodstream pushes the carbon dioxide into the lungs, which is released when a person exhales. There are several different cell types, including epithelial cells which lubricate the airways and protect the lungs, as well as nerve cells, hormone-producing cells, structural and supporting cells and blood cells.

Lung cancer is one of the most affecting cancers across the world. This can be particularly associated to smoking cigarettes, which is often the main cause. It is important to note, however, that anyone, regardless if they smoke or not, can develop lung cancer. Lung cancer can be treated, regardless of the size, location and spread of the tumour.

There are two predominant types of lung cancer ā€“ non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer.

NSCLC

When cells that are healthy within the lung begin to rapidly grow and change uncontrollably, a tumour can grow in any place throughout the lung. A tumour has the potential to be either benign or cancerous. If a cancerous tumour begins to grow, it can release cancer cells which are transported through the blood to surrounding lymph nodes that are found in the surrounding tissue of the lung.

NSCLC typically originates from the epithelial cells and is often described according to the type of epithelial cell that the cancer originates from. This can be either:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma, beginning in the cells lining the airways
  • Adenocarcinoma, beginning in the cells that create mucus
  • Large cell carcinoma, beginning the cells different from the two cell types above.

By determining the type of lung cancer cells present, oncology teams are able to best create a treatment plan suited to your own personal needs.

Symptoms and Signs of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

As with many types of cancer, those with NSCLC may experience no symptoms until the tumour has spread, or they may experience symptoms that are unrelated to cancer. Symptoms and signs that are related to NSCLC can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • A cough
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite 

As many of these symptoms are common and not specifically linked to cancer, it may take a chest x-ray or a CT scan to notice a tumour. As a tumour progresses, it can make a build-up of fluid in the lungs, pushing air out and causing the lung to collapse.

If lung cancer spreads throughout the body, this is known as metastatic cancer and becomes increasingly difficult to treat. NSCLC can spread anywhere throughout the body, however it is most commonly found in the lymph nodes, bones, brain, liver and adrenal glands.

Metastases Symptoms can Include:

  • Further breathing difficulties
  • Pain in the bones
  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Weakness
  • Speech difficulties 

All symptoms should be discussed with your doctor as they may provide some insight into an underlying condition. If/when cancer is diagnosed, one of the major treatments will be palliative care. This care works to relieve a patient from their symptoms and helps them live a more comfortable life whilst living with cancer.