Lung Cancer: Types, Complications & Diagnosis 

Summary: Lung cancer affects both men and women worldwide- even those who have never smoked a day in their lives. This cancer is a difficult one to diagnose in early stages, which is why any smoker should consult with their doctor about preventative testing. In this article, you can learn about the different types of lung cancer, the complications that could arise, as well as the basic outline of how diagnosis is completed. There are different types of lung cancer. Many specialists divide lung cancer into two major types based on appearance of the cancer cells under the microscope. Your doctor will then make your treatment decisions based on these results. The two general types of lung cancer include:

  • Small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer occurs almost exclusively in heavy smokers and is less common than non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is an umbrella term for several types of lung cancers that behave in a similar way. Non-small cell lung cancers include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma.

The Possible Complications from Lung Cancer

Lung cancer can cause a myriad of complications before and after diagnosis. Some of these complications are:

  • Shortness of breath. People with lung cancer can experience shortness of breath if cancer grows to block the major airways. Lung cancer can also cause fluid to accumulate around the lungs, making it harder for the affected lung to expand fully when you inhale.
  • Coughing up blood. Lung cancer can cause bleeding in the airway, which can cause you to cough up blood. Sometimes bleeding can become severe. Treatments are available to control bleeding.
  • Pain. Advanced lung cancer that spreads to the lining of a lung or to another area of the body, such as a bone, can cause pain. Tell your doctor if you experience pain, as many treatments are available to control pain.
  • Fluid in the chest or pleural effusion. Lung cancer can cause fluid to accumulate in the space that surrounds the affected lung in the chest cavity, or the pleural space. Fluid accumulating in the chest can cause shortness of breath. Treatments are available to drain the fluid from your chest and reduce the risk that pleural effusion will occur again.
  • Cancer that spreads to other parts of the body or metastasizes. Lung cancer often spreads, or metastasizes, to other parts of the body, such as the brain and the bones. Cancer that spreads can cause pain, nausea, headaches, or other signs and symptoms depending on what organ is affected. Once lung cancer has spread beyond the lungs, it is generally not curable. Treatments are available to decrease signs and symptoms and to help you live longer.

Patients with an Increased Risk for Lung Cancer

For those patients who have an increased risk of lung cancer should consider annual lung cancer screening done by your doctor. These tests often involve using low-dose CT scans. This service is most often offered to people over the age of fifty-five, or those who have smoked heavily for many years. Discuss your lung cancer risk with your doctor to determine which testing may be right for you.

The Diagnosis of Lung Cancer

If your doctor suspects you have lung cancer, they will order a number of tests to look for cancerous cells and rule out any other conditions. These tests might include:

  • Imaging tests. An X-ray image of your lungs may reveal an abnormal mass or nodule. A CT scan can reveal small lesions in your lungs that might not be detected on an X-ray.
  • Sputum cytology. If you have a cough and are producing sputum, looking at the sputum under the microscope can sometimes reveal the presence of lung cancer cells.
  • Tissue sample or biopsy. A sample of abnormal cells may be removed in a procedure called a biopsy.
  • Your doctor can perform a biopsy in a number of ways, including bronchoscopy, in which your doctor examines abnormal areas of your lungs using a lighted tube that’s passed down your throat and into your lungs; mediastinoscopy, in which an incision is made at the base of your neck and surgical tools are inserted behind your breastbone to take tissue samples from lymph nodes; and needle biopsy, in which your doctor uses X-ray or CT images to guide a needle through your chest wall and into the lung tissue to collect suspicious cells.
  • A biopsy sample may also be taken from lymph nodes or other areas where cancer has spread, such as your liver.

By analyzing your cells, this will reveal any cancerous cells or abnormal growths that you have. Results of these tests can give your doctor the answers they seek about certain characteristics of your cells and your cancer, which can help to determine your prognosis and treatment plan.

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