In its early stages, lung cancer is a silent disease. Most individuals are asymptomatic (without symptoms) for the first several months up to a year or two. Unfortunately, lung cancer is generally in its advanced stages when individuals begin to feel something is wrong.
The symptoms include shortness of breath or wheezing, chest pain that doesn’t go away, a persistent cough, frequent lung infections, loss of appetite and weight loss. Someone with lung cancer may get bronchitis regularly, or pneumonia, as the lungs are rendered defenseless by the malignant tumor.
In order to determine a diagnosis of lung cancer, a physician will review the patient’s medical history, especially exposure to cigarette smoke. Past exposure to other potential carcinogenic substances, like chromium or asbestos, will also be reviewed.
Then, the doctor will generally order a chest x-ray. If the chest x-ray looks suspicious, a biopsy of any unusual lung tissue will be the next and final step of diagnosis. If the tissue sample is malignant, then the diagnosis is lung cancer.
The staging part of the diagnosis indicates how advanced the lung cancer is, and how far it has spread. If it has metastasized, that means it has spread outside the lungs, to other areas of the body. Treatment for this disease includes surgery to remove the tumor, radiation treatment aimed at the tumor, and/or chemotherapy which uses drugs to target rapidly multiplying cells throughout the body.
Currently, lung cancer is one of the more deadly forms of cancer, simply due to the fact that it often goes unnoticed until it is too late. Researchers are working on an early detection process for lung cancer, in hopes of protecting future generations from dying of this disease.