NSCLC: Why It Can Be Silent and Deadly

NSCLC stands for non-small cell lung cancer. There are several types of lung cancer. The cancerous cells for each type will spread and grow differently.  Lung cancers are named for the type of cells that are found in the cancer and the appearance of the cells under a microscope. The varieties of lung cancers include plemorphic, unclassified carcinoma, salivary gland carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

What is Non-small Cell Lung Cancer?

what-is-non-small-cell-lung-cancerTwo lungs are located in the chest with the right lung broken up into three sections, known as the lobes. The left lung contains only two lobes. The smaller size of the left lung is due to the heart taking up more space in that area of the body. When a person inhales, the air enters through the nose or mouth and is divided into the smaller branches known as the bronchioles. Located at the end of the bronchioles are small sacs called alveoli and small blood vessels will run through them.  They’re designed to absorb inhaled oxygen into the bloodstream and will pass carbon dioxide from the body, into the alveoli. All toxins will be expelled when a person exhales. The main functions of the lungs will be to take in oxygen and filter out the carbon dioxide.

Located below the lungs, is the diaphragm, a thin dome shaped muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest. When a person breathes the diaphragm will move up and down, forcing oxygen in and out of the lungs.  Cancer of the lungs can begin in the cells that line the bronchi, as well as parts of the lung, such as the alveoli or the bronchioles.

Lung cancer will begin as an area of precancerous changes in the lungs. The initial change in the DNA inside the lung cells can cause the cells to grow at a rapid rate. These cells can appear abnormal, but during this stage they will not form a tumor or mass. These are not visible on an x-ray and do not cause symptoms.

Over a period of time the cells that are abnormal can undergo other gene changes, which will cause them to advance to true cancer. As the cancer progresses, the cells can make chemicals that will cause new blood vessels to form. The blood vessels will nurture the cancerous cells, allowing them to grow, forming a tumor that’s big enough to be seen on an x-ray. During this process the cancer can spread to other areas of the body, which is known as metastasis. This is a life threatening disease because it can spread rather quickly before it’s even detected.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Lung Cancer SymptomsOften, lung cancer causes very specific symptoms and there are several different types of non-small cell cancer. A test that’s designed to examine the lungs can be used to find and diagnose this type of cancer.  Unfortunately, most treatments available for late stage lung cancer are not effective in curing the patients.

The two primary types of lung cancer are known as small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These types of cancer are very different from each other.

Thirty percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed as squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer can often be linked with a history of smoking and will usually be found near the bronchus. Forty percent of lung cancer is diagnosed as adenocarcinomas. This type of cancer often occurs in former smokers, but it is also a common type of cancer that’s seen in people who do not have a history of tobacco use. Large cell carcinoma will account for fifteen percent of lung cancer cases. This type of lung cancer progresses and spreads at a rapid rate, making it difficult to treat.

Most types of lung cancer don’t cause any noticeable symptoms until they have spread to other areas of the body, however, some people with early lung cancer do display symptoms. If you meet with your doctor when you first notice symptoms, the cancer can be diagnosed in an earlier stage, which is when regimen will be more effective. The most common symptoms include wheezing, loss of appetite and weight loss, coughing that gets worse and doesn’t go away, coughing up rust colored spit or blood, shortness of breath, increased fatigue, increased weakness, hoarse voice. When the cancer has spread you may experience symptoms such as bone pain in the hips or back, numbness in limbs, frequent headaches, jaundice, lumps near the surface of the body and balance problems.  Usually, many of these symptoms can be caused by something other than cancer, however, if you are experiencing any of these issues, it’s very important to seek medical attention right away.

Surgical Lung Cancer Treatment

surgical-lung-cancer-treatmentOften, in severe cases, treatment experts recommend a round of chemo before surgery or radiation, in hopes of shrinking the tumors enough to make them easier to remove with surgery, which then increases the effectiveness of the radiation treatment which can kill hidden cancer cells rapidly.  If the tumors do not shrink with chemo, medication can be stopped immediately in order to allow the physician to try a different treatment approach. Research has shown that people with this type of lung cancer are better able to cope with the side effects of chemo when it is performed before surgery. At times, a short trial period of treatment with medication used to shrink the tumor before surgery is recommended only if the patient is in the earlier stage.

Most stage one and stage two NSCLC are treated with surgery. Surgery will remove the section or lobe of the lung that contains the tumor or tumors. Some surgeons will used VATs, or video assisted thoracoscopic surgery to perform this procedure. By making a small cut or incision in the chest, the surgeon is able to insert a small thorascope, which is equipped with a small camera and light. This tiny camera is connected to a large video monitor, allowing the surgeon to get a large clear view of the inside of the chest. The lung lob is then removed through the scope, all without making a large incision in the chest cavity.