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Lung Cancer: Early Signs, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Despite the huge advancement of science and technology, the ultimate cure for cancer is something that is still out of reach for us humans. Though cancer can affect any organs of our body, it is lung cancer which is the most threatening as it affects our ability to breathe.

Lung cancer is responsible for about of 1.8 million deaths worldwide. Disturbingly, this number is growing at a high rate [1] . Here is everything you need to know about lung cancer, how to read the early signs, prevention and treatment options.

What Is Lung Cancer?

It is the most dangerous type of cancer as the cancerous cells divide uncontrollably, causing multiple tumours in your lungs which can compromise your ability to breathe.

Causes Of Lung Cancer

Being exposed to cancer-causing ingredients such as carcinogens most commonly found in cigarettes, damages the inner linings of the lungs. Though the cells have the ability to repair themselves, they become weaker due to constant exposure. This causes the cells to turn cancerous, giving rise to tumours.

Typically, habitual smokers are of the foremost people to get affected by lung cancer [2] . However, it is known to happen to non-smokers as well, mainly in people who are exposed to second-hand smoke.

Lung cancer is known to be prevalent in people who are regularly exposed to chemicals or other toxins inhaled regularly. People in the mining industry are at a very high risk of developing lung cancer [3] .

Being regularly exposed to high levels of pollution and radon [4] are growing to be other major reasons for the development of lung cancer.

Types Of Lung Cancer

Generally, there are two types of lung cancer [5] .

  • Small cell lung cancer: This type of cancer is only found in heavy smokers and is less common in others. It accounts for almost 10% to 15% of the total number of people affected by lung cancer.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer: There are many different types of cancers under non-small cell lung cancer. The type of cancer is based on the growth of the cancerous cells in a particular group of cells in the lungs. It includes squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma.

Stages Of Lung Cancer [6]

Lung cancer is divided into different stages based on how far the cancer cells are spread. These are the different stages of lung cancer.

  • Stage 0: This is when the examinations find abnormal cell activity cells situated in the top layers of the airways.
  • Stage 1: The abnormal division of the cells results in a tumour, which is under 5 cm and hasn't spread to other areas of the lungs.
  • Stage 2: Though the tumour is less than 5 cm, it is spread to the lymph nodes or if it is less than 7 cm but has not spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the lungs.
  • Stage 4: If the cancer that spread to other body parts such as the oesophagus or the brain.

Symptoms Of Lung Cancer

Typical symptoms of lung cancer include [7] the following.

  • Frequent chest infections
  • Hoarse voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Recurring cough that does not seem to subside
  • Frequent and unexplained headaches
  • Blood discharge while coughing
  • Unexplained weight loss

It is important to understand these symptoms and get yourself tested, more so if you are a smoker or someone who is exposed to chemicals and toxic fumes regularly.

Early Signs Of Lung Cancer

The common symptoms of lung cancer may take a while to show up. Therefore, you may look for some of the early signs of lung cancer. These signs usually mean that the cancer is at Stage 0, thereby giving you more chances to survive.

  • Changes in breathing
  • Frequent chest pains
  • Wheezing
  • Raspy voice
  • Bone pain

Diagnosis Of Lung Cancer

If the doctors notice a tumour or lump in the initial screenings, you may have to go through a number to test before being diagnosed for lung cancer. Some common tests to diagnose lung cancer are as follows:

  • Tissue sampling or biopsy [8] : The doctors may take some of your lung tissues and look for any cancerous activity.
  • Lab testing: Your sputum or blood will be studied under the microscope for lung cancer.
  • Imaging testing: An X-ray will usually reveal any abnormal mass in your lungs


There may be a number of complications arising due to lung cancer.

  • Shortness of breath due to tumour growth
  • Bleeding while coughing
  • Pain caused due to the lung cancer spreading is another complication.
  • Lung cancer can lead to accumulation of fluids in the chest cavity, which may be one of the reasons for shortness of breath.

Treatment Of Lung Cancer

Treatment of lung cancer is usually dependent on the location and the stage of cancer. Your overall health will also be taken into account before finalising the treatment of your lung cancer. Due to advancement in the medical field, there are a lot of treatment options available for you to beat lung cancer. Possible treatment options include the following:

  • Surgery [9] : This is the first option that the doctors consider to treat lung cancer. Surgery to remove the part of the lung where cancer has spread and the surrounding areas. The procedure may involve removing part of the lung. Sometimes, a whole lung is removed without any complications to the person.
  • Chemotherapy [10] : The most common way to treat any kind of cancer, chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to shrink the cancer cells. Though effective, chemotherapy has a lot of side effects and is only resorted to if the cancer is more widespread.

  • Radiation therapy [10] : This procedure uses high energy rays to shrink the cancer-causing tumour, which is then surgically removed.
  • Targeted therapy [10] : This procedure targets the cancerous cells activity and prevent them from multiplying.

Risk Factors

There are a number of factors that increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Though some factors can be controlled, there are others which are often uncontrollable. They include the following:

  • Smoking as well as second-hand smoking
  • Constant exposure to high levels of pollution
  • Exposure to carcinogens like asbestos workplaces
  • People with a family history of lung cancer

Tips For Preventing Lung Cancer

Though we may never be able to shield ourselves from lung cancer completely, there are a few tips that will help you prevent it.

  • Stop smoking: This makes it to the top of our list due to the fact that smokers have the highest chances of developing lung cancer. Also, every cigarette that you smoke is just bringing you closer to lung cancer. Studies have found that people who give you smoking even after many years reduce significantly reduce developing the disease later on.
  • Avoid exposure to a lot of smoke of pollution: Wearing masks may prevent you from inhaling carcinogens from the air to a certain extent. Also, it may wise to plant more trees in your neighbourhood as plants act as a natural air filter.
  • Consume and lot of fruits and vegetables: A healthy diet will go a long way to ensure that your body is in top shape to fight off any abnormal cellular activity that may turn into deadly cancer.
View Article References
  1. [1] Torre, L. A., Siegel, R. L., & Jemal, A. (2016). Lung cancer statistics. InLung cancer and personalized medicine(pp. 1-19). Springer, Cham.
  2. [2] Ridge, C. A., McErlean, A. M., & Ginsberg, M. S. (2013, June). Epidemiology of lung cancer. InSeminars in interventional radiology(Vol. 30, No. 02, pp. 093-098). Thieme Medical Publishers.
  3. [3] Field, R. W., & Withers, B. L. (2012). Occupational and environmental causes of lung cancer.Clinics in chest medicine,33(4), 681-703.
  4. [4] Pirie, K., Peto, R., Green, J., Reeves, G. K., Beral, V., & Million Women Study Collaborators (2016). Lung cancer in never smokers in the UK Million Women Study.International journal of cancer,139(2), 347–354.
  5. [5] Hammerschmidt, S., & Wirtz, H. (2009). Lung cancer: current diagnosis and treatment.Deutsches Arzteblatt international,106(49), 809–820.
  6. [6] Lemjabbar-Alaoui, H., Hassan, O. U., Yang, Y. W., & Buchanan, P. (2015). Lung cancer: Biology and treatment options.Biochimica et biophysica acta,1856(2), 189–210.
  7. [7] Polanski, J., Jankowska-Polanska, B., Rosinczuk, J., Chabowski, M., & Szymanska-Chabowska, A. (2016). Quality of life of patients with lung cancer.OncoTargets and therapy,9, 1023–1028.
  8. [8] Ofiara, L. M., Navasakulpong, A., Beaudoin, S., & Gonzalez, A. V. (2014). Optimizing tissue sampling for the diagnosis, subtyping, and molecular analysis of lung cancer.Frontiers in oncology,4, 253.
  9. [9] Lackey, A., & Donington, J. S. (2013). Surgical management of lung cancer.Seminars in interventional radiology,30(2), 133–140.
  10. [10] Palma, D., Visser, O., Lagerwaard, F. J., Belderbos, J., Slotman, B. J., & Senan, S. (2010). Impact of introducing stereotactic lung radiotherapy for elderly patients with stage I non–small-cell lung cancer: A population-based time-trend analysis.Journal of clinical oncology,28(35), 5153-5159.
Read more about: lung cancer signs treatment causes
Story first published: Monday, May 20, 2019, 16:30 [IST]
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