The second most common form of cancer diagnosed in the United States and also the most lethal, lung cancer has plagued the medical field for years. Recently, its lethality has been somewhat curbed by advances in treating non-small cell lung cancer, which comprise the majority (85%) of lung cancer cases. Unfortunately, treatment of any kind of lung cancer is difficult at later stages and lung cancer is optimally diagnosed before lung cancer symptoms arise.
Early Diagnosis a Key
Early diagnosis is key to controlling lung cancer, but can be difficult to achieve without lung cancer symptoms. Often, stage 1, 2, and 3 non-small cell lung cancers are entirely curable with surgery and chemotherapy after diagnosis with a chest X-ray and confirmation with a CT scan or a PET scan. Currently, these cases are generally discovered accidentally while treating other diseases that may present lung cancer symptoms unrelated to the actual lung cancer present in the patient. These accidental diagnoses and subsequent successful treatments have led to doctors pursuing early diagnosis as a possible solution to the lung cancer epidemic.
Symptoms Show Up Too Late
By the time lung cancer is symptomatic, it has already spread to other parts of the body. This is referred to as stage 4 lung cancer, where the cancer has spread to fluid around the lung and beyond. This is generally when most lung cancer symptoms, like pain in the chest or ribs, fatigue or loss of appetite, and swollen lymph odes present. Survival rates are much lower at this stage and require the attention of many more specialists. Prolonged hospital stays are also much more likely.
New Procedure for the Heavy Smokers
Doctors are now recommending semi-regular CT scans for those who may be at risk for lung cancer, especially those who are moderate to heavy smokers. Early diagnosis presents an opportunity for specialists to devise a combination of surgery and chemotherapy that works best for each individual patient and his or her individual cancer type. Survival rates for non-small cell lung cancer caught in stage 1 or 2 are very high. Treatment is also generally much simpler and recovery from chemotherapy much less strenuous.
What Will the Future Hold?
Hopefully with early intervention, the American Cancer Society’s prediction of 158,000 lung cancer related deaths in 2016 will be much lower than expected. As the general population continues to be educated and pursue advice and information on their own accord, doctors will be able to better communicate with their patients and offer more suitable strategies for disease treatment.