Lung cancer is a condition whereby cells in the lungs begin to divide uncontrollably to form a tumour – a mass of diseased or abnormal cells. Lung cancer doesn’t usually produce any symptoms in the early stages, but as the cancer begins too spread into neighbouring areas, warning signs tend to appear. One common warning sign is having an ache or pain in the chest or shoulder, according to Cancer Research UK.
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Other common symptoms include:
- Having a cough most of the time
- Having a change in a cough you have had for a long time – it may sound different or be painful when you cough
- Getting out of breath doing the things you used to do without a problem
- Coughing up phlegm (sputum) with blood in it
- Chest infections that keep coming back or a chest infection that doesn’t get better
- Losing your appetite
- Feeling tired all the time (fatigue)
- Losing weight
When to see a GP
As Cancer Research UK points out, these symptoms may not be due to cancer but it is important to get them checked by a doctor.
“A cough is also a symptom of coronavirus. It is still important to contact your GP if you have a new or worsening cough,” advises the charity.
They can speak to you over the phone or by video call and arrange for tests if you need them, it says.
How is lung cancer diagnosed?
A chest X-ray is usually the first test used to diagnose lung cancer, according to the NHS.
“However, chest X-rays cannot give a definitive diagnosis because they often cannot distinguish between cancer and other conditions, such as a lung abscess (a collection of pus that forms in the lungs),” notes the health body.
If a chest X-ray suggests you may have lung cancer, you should be referred to a specialist in chest conditions, it says.
Other testing stages include:
- CT scan
- PET-CT scan
- Bronchoscopy and biopsy
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How to treat it lung cancer
Your treatment depends on the type of lung cancer, where it is, its size, whether it has spread, and your general health.
Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy make up the main forms of treatment but other treatments are sometimes used to treat lung cancer.
“Photodynamic therapy (PDT) can be used to treat early-stage lung cancer when a person is unable or unwilling to have surgery,” says the NHS.
It can also be used to remove a tumour that’s blocking the airways, it adds.
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Am I at risk?
Certain lifestyle factors are strongly associated with lung cancer, the most common being smoking tobacco.
Around seven out of 10 lung cancers are reportedly caused by smoking.
This includes breathing in other people’s cigarette smoke.
As an incentive to curb the unhealthy habit, your risk increases the longer you smoke and the more you smoke, explains Cancer Research UK.
Previous lung diseases can increase your risk of lung cancer, says the health site.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is also called chronic obstructive airways disease.
As Cancer Research UK explains, COPD usually develops because of long-term damage to your lungs from breathing in a harmful substance, usually cigarette smoke.
“Your risk of lung cancer is higher if you have COPD or lung infection (pneumonia) compared to people who don’t have it,” it warns.
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