Lung cancer is famously known as the “silent killer” of cancers. This is due to there being no significant symptoms that can be associated with lung cancer in its early stages.
In this post, Dr Tho Lye Mun, our Consultant Clinical Oncologist, goes through some basic information about lung cancer that you need to know.
What Is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer can be defined as cancer that starts in the lung. It is caused by mutated cancer cells in the lungs that grow out of control.
Types Of Lung Cancer
Doctors categorize lung cancer into 2 major types :
- Non small cell lung cancer
- Small cell lung cancer
Non small cell lung cancers add up to around 85 to 90 percent of lung cancer cases in Malaysia while 10 to 15 percent of cases is small cell lung cancer.
“Doctors are able to identify the type of lung cancer by examining the tumour under a microscope.”, said Dr Tho.
What are the causes of lung cancer?
The most common cause of lung cancer is the exposure to carcinogens through smoking cigarettes.
However, Dr Tho added that, increasingly, patients that see him are non smokers or light smokers. This may be caused by exposure to environmental toxins that we may not be able to account for.
In terms of genetics, unlike breast cancers, there is no link of lung cancer with any family history. However, studies are still ongoing and may not have caught up with all the spectrum of genetic association of lung cancer.
Genetic Predisposition For Lung Cancer
We all have heard stories of people smoking for 5 years and develop lung cancer while a relative of theirs have been smoking for 50 years but do not develop lung cancer.
To this, Dr Tho responded cheekily, “A lot of my patients tell me about the same ‘uncle’ when I ask them to quit smoking!”
According to Dr Tho, this is boils down to a person’s sensitivity to a particular environmental toxins. Some people may be more genetically resistant to developing DNA damage, while others can be more susceptible.
Unfortunately, we do not know in which group we fall into. This is why quitting smoking is the best prevention strategy.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
The symptoms of lung cancer include:
- Constant coughing
- Unexplained pain in the chest area
- Coughing blood
- Unexplained weight lost
“Unfortunately, people can confuse symptoms of lung cancer with general conditions. There is no one particular symptom that differentiates it from common diseases such as a chest infection or tuberculosis”, said Dr Tho.
Despite that, Dr Tho mentioned that, if the symptoms are persistent, even after treatment, you should go for an x-ray or see a specialist.
Diagnosis Of Lung Cancer
The most common procedure to screen for lung cancer is an x-ray scan. However a CT scan is the best way to detect lung cancer, with a detection success rate of 90 to 95 percent.
After locating the tumour through a CT scan, a biopsy will be done to determine the type of lung cancer. Once that is done, the tumour will be staged to determine if the cancer has spread or is still in the lungs.
Death Rate Of Lung Cancer
Sadly, lung cancer has the worst survival rate in Malaysian statistics compared to breast, colon and prostate cancer.
The good news is, emerging treatments and breakthroughs have shown promising results.
Lung Cancer Treatments
“The type of treatment for lung cancer depends on the genetic analysis of the tumour”, said Dr Tho.
As mentioned before, new treatments such as targeted therapy has skyrocketed survival rates of stage 4 cancer from 6 months to up to 5 years.
Another breakthrough in cancer treatment is immunotherapy. Scientists designed the drug to boost the immune system so that it can recognize and fight cancer cells.
Lifestyle Changes For Cancer
Although being diagnosed with lung cancer can drastically affect a person’s day to day life, there are several lifestyle changes that can be implemented to improve quality of life.
“It is absolutely imperative to change your lifestyle once you are diagnosed with cancer.”, said Dr Tho.
Researchers have proven that some changes are effective in improving quality of life.:
- Stop smoking
- Having a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Rest well and sleep well
“These lifestyle changes are necessary to ensure that the immune system is strong and able to defend the body.”, Dr Tho added.
When asked if he had any final advice for smokers, with a smile on his face, Dr Tho said, “Put that cigarette down, go out and get some fresh air!”
He also added that eating more vegetables and less fried stuff also plays a role in reducing the risk of cancer. Finally, Dr Tho advised the public to go for regular screening, as early detection is always the best way to cure lung cancer.
Beacon Hospital is always at the forefront of cancer treatments in Malaysia. Our Cancer Centre of Excellence is equipped with the latest technology and our doctors are equipped with years of experience in treating cancer.
If you have any persistent symptoms of lung cancer, our doctors are ready to provide consultation and help you in fighting cancer.