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Lung Cancer: History, Causes, Types and Treatments

Info: 3095 words (12 pages) Nursing Essay
Published: 11th Feb 2020

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Tagged: cancerchemotherapyradiation therapy

Lung Cancer


Lung cancer is a kind of cancer that begins in the lungs. Lungs are the spongy organs in the chest that are responsible for taking in oxygen when one inhales and releases carbon-dioxide when one exhales. Lung cancer is the principal causation of cancer related deaths in the United States, amongst both women n and men. It claims more lives annually than does breasts, ovarian, prostate and colon cancers, all combined. People that smoke have the highest chances of suffering this ailment. The risk of this form of cancer increases with the number of cigarettes one smokes and the duration that one smokes. Lung cancer causes the demise of more than one million people worldwide in a single year. It is projected that roughly 90% of deaths caused by lung cancer in men and 75-80% overall deaths in the United States are owed to smoking. Vividly, lung cancer is a prevalent and imperative disease that constitutes a major health problem in the world.


In the past 150 years, lung cancer was non-existent. In the year 1878, only 1% represented the malignant lung cancers that were seen by the pathology institute of university of Dresden, Germany. By the year 1918, the percentage of cancer had risen to about 10% and by the year 1927 it had risen to more than 14%. It was noted in 1930 that t the turn of the new century the malignant tumors had begun to increase and may be even more by the end of World War I. It was noted that whilst most of the lung tumors happened to men, there seemed to be a rise of the tumors in women as well. The period of the disease from the time it was known to the time of death was usually between a year and two years at most. In all these cases of the patients diagnosed with the lung tumors, there had been a prolonged history of chronic bronchitis.

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The increase of lung cancer was said to have been on the rise due to several probable etiological factors: increase in air pollution by dust and gasses that were emitted by the industries; being exposed to gases in World War I; increased automobile traffic; and working with gasoline or benzene. Nevertheless, lung cancer cases rose at an equally alarming rate in the countries that had few automobiles, less industries and workers not exposed to gasoline and benzene. In several instances, smoking was mentioned as a possibility that caused lung cancer, but many investigations failed to confirm a link between lung cancer and smoking. There were however suspicions that smoking did actually contribute to the illness. However, in the year 1929, Fritz Linckint, a German physician, researched and published the findings that the lung cancer patients were most likely to be smokers. This led to his campaigns against smoking which led to the spread of anti-tobacco activism in Germany.

The link amid lung cancer and smoking of cigarettes began to be prominent in the 1930s due to the suspicions of clinicians owed to the increase in the disease. After two decades, smoking was declared an agent that caused lung cancer. In the 1940s in Germany, lung cancer was the second frequent cause of cancer death after stomach cancer. Research by The German Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research postulated that amongst 109 lung cancer patients, only three were not smokers. It however took a very long time for the truth to sink in that there was a causative link between lung cancer and smoking. Most of the smokers as well as the physicians, who enjoyed cigarettes refused to trust that their habit was harmful to their health.

In the 1500s two regions in Czechoslovakia and Germany, Joachimsthal and Schneeberg were productive mines that yielded arsenic, bismuth, cobalt, nickel and silver. The miners in these ores developed some deadly disease that the locals termed at “the mountain disease” that was labeled an occupational disease for the miners. Most thought that arsenic was the root cause of this lung cancer but it was later proven that it was the emissions of radium that was the cause.

Lung Cancer Risks and Causes

To a large extent, the biggest cause of lung cancer is smoking. Smoking causes over 8 out of ten lung cancer cases including a tiny fraction caused due to being exposed to second hand smoke for the non-smokers (passive smoking). The more an individual smokes, the higher the chances of getting lung cancer though the length of time that one stays a smoker is even more crucial than the number of cigarettes one takes a day. It is more harmful to start smoking at a a young tender age than starting as an adult. When one stops smoking it reduces the risks they have of contacting lung cancer as compared to continuing to smoke. The sooner one quits, the better their health. Passive smoking, breathing in other persons’ smoke from cigarettes, increases the possibility of lung cancer though it is much less if one smokes themselves. Cigarette smoking is therefore the major basis of lung cancer. Cigar and pipe smokers also have an increased chance of getting lung cancer as compared to those who do not smoke. They are also very likely to get cancer of the lip or mouth. In the past lung cancer was common with men than women, but nowadays since more women are smoking, it is also as common amongst women.

Other risk factors that are known to cause lung cancer include: the exposure to radon gases and certain chemicals, air pollution, a previous lung disease, a family history of lung cancer, lowered immunity, previously smoking related cancers, and a past treatment of cancer. Radon gas is a natural radioactive gas that originates from the tiny deposits of uranium found in all soils and rocks. Radon gas is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking. Exposure to radon gas increases the risk of getting lung cancer for the smokers. It is therefore advisable for the people living in areas prone to this gas to stop smoking since their chances of getting lung cancer are very high.

Certain chemicals have been known to cause lung cancer: diesel exhaust, silica and asbestos. Contact with Asbestos was common in the 1960s in the shipbuilding and construction industries. Asbestos is still a lung cancer cause since the cancers take a pretty long time to develop. Smokers are at a higher risk of contacting lung cancer when exposed to asbestos. Silica is also a chemical that is used in glass making and is harmful to the human body since it causes a condition called silicosis. A person suffering from this illness has a very high chance of getting lung cancer, and once again, smokers are more at risk as compared to non-smokers. Air pollution has also been known to cause lung cancer. It however depends on the level of air pollution one exposes themselves to.

People who have had previous diseases in the lungs have an increased rate of getting lung cancer. Adenocarcinoma of the lung is a form of lung cancer that occurs after one has had a disease in the past that caused a scar in the lungs. Tuberculosis is one such disease that can leave a scar in the lung. People who have suffered from tuberculosis have a double risk of getting lung cancer. The risk continues for over 20 years of the disease. Chlamydia pneumoniae is a kind of a bacterium known to cause chest infections. The people with the antibodies to Chlamydia pneumonia have an increased chance of getting lung cancer. The risk is even greater for the smokers.

Family history of lung cancer could also be another risk factor to lung cancer. If a person has a first degree relative with the disease, their risk of lung cancer will be increased by 50%. This risk is however higher if a sister or brother has lung cancer, than the parent. This risk is not dependent on whether an individual smokes or not. Families with smokers could be exposed to smoke from cigarettes and therefore increase the chances of contacting lung cancer whether they have inherited a defective gene or not. Research has it that there is a likelihood that at least a single faulty gene could increase the risk of lung cancer and can be passed down in the family, inherited.

There is evidence that particular treatments of cancer could increase the risks of lung cancer. An assessment into the cure for breast cancer shows that the ways of administering radiotherapy have in the past increased the risk of developing lung cancer. Oestrogen receptor negative patients suffering from breast cancer have a high risk of getting lung cancer. Other people who may also have increased chances of getting lung cancer are those that have been treated for a type of cancer of the womb, testicular cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. Just like in the past causes of cancer discussed above, the chances of getting lung cancer are more increased for the smokers. Persons who have had neck, head cancer, cervical cancer and oesophagal cancer have a high risk of lung cancer. This could be explained by the reason that all the mentioned cancers are common for smokers, though it could also be due to radiotherapy curative procedures.

The drugs that people take after they have had organ transplants and the people with HIV/AIDS both have low immunity. People with HIV or AIDS therefore have a risk of lung cancer that is 3 times more than those that do not have the disease. People who use drugs that suppress immunity after they have had an organ transplant have a double the normal risk of lung cancer. People with autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis also have an increased chance of getting lung cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer may not produce any conspicuous symptoms during the early stages. In about 40% of persons diagnosed with lung cancer, diagnosis is normally made after the disease has already advanced. In most of the patients, the cancer advances to stage three for it to be detected. There are however some lung cancer symptoms that one ought to watch out for and seek medical attention early in advance.

A new cough that lingers is one sign of lung cancer; since a cough related to a respiratory infection or cold should disappear within one to two weeks. One should not label a lingering cough as “just a cough” whether it is mucus producing or dry. It is therefore advisable to see a doctor immediately for testing. Changes in the cough is also trivial to note more so for the smokers. These changes include the cough having a hoarse and deeper sound, coughing up more mucus than normal or blood and coughing more often than is usual. Becoming easily breathless or experiencing shortness of breath are some probable indicators of lung cancer. This symptom could probably occur when the lung cancer narrows or blocks the airway, or when fluid from the lung tumor accumulates in the chest. This symptom should not be ignored for tiredness or dismissed for whatever reason.

The presence of lung cancer can produce pain the back, shoulder and chest areas. The aching feeling could however not be accompanied by coughing. The chest pain caused by lung cancer is owed to a discomfort that is as a result of metastasis or the enlargement of lymph nodes to the ribs, pleura (lining in the lung region) or the chest wall. Wheezing is another symptom of lung cancer. The whistling or wheezing sound is produced by the lungs when one breaths, since the airways become inflamed, blocked and constricted by the occurrence of the tumor. Since wheezing is associated with treatable and benign causes, one should have it checked and not assume it since it could be a probable cause of lung cancer. The voice changes when one has lung cancer and becomes raspier, hoarse and deeper. Hoarseness in normal circumstances could be as a result of a simple cold, but when it persists to more than two weeks; it ought to be checked out. The hoarseness that is related to lung cancer occurs when a tumor tampers with the nerves that are responsible for controlling the voice box or larynx.

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A weight loss that cannot be explained of approximately 10 pounds or more may be linked to lung cancer or a different type of lung cancer. When there is a cancer in the body, ones weight drops as a result of the cancer cells using the energy in the body. It also tampers with the normal way in which the body uses energy acquired from food. Lung cancer could spread to the bones producing pain in the body and more so in the back. The pain is worse at night when the patient rests on their back. Lung cancer is also linked to pain in the neck, arm and shoulder. Headaches could be a sign that the lung cancer has spread to the brain. The headaches could also be triggered by pressure by the lung tumor on the superior vena cava (the large vein responsible for moving blood to the heart from the upper body).

Prevention of Lung Cancer

Several factors may help in the protection of lung cancer: diet, physical activity, aspirin and having multiple sclerosis. Vegetables and fresh fruits may help in the prevention of lung cancer since they contain chemicals that can prevent damage to cells. The antioxidant vitamins E, C and A, are also thought to help in the reduction of lung cancer. New evidence postulates that flavonoids in many vegetables and fruits help reduce the risk of lung cancer. Research is however ongoing to find out which exact nutrients in vegetables and fruits are of utmost help. Beta cryptoxanthin, found in fruits like mangoes and oranges may lower risk of lung cancer. Changing diet alone cannot reduce the risk of lung cancer much when one carries on smoking. The most vital thing is to quit smoking.

Studies have shown that high levels of physical activity can lower the risk of lung cancer. This includes the activities at home, work and leisure activities such as golf and walking. Some research has it that taking aspirin may reduce the risk of lung cancer but other studies have not. Other studies postulate that aspirin intake may only reduce the risk in men or for people taking 7 tablets within a week. It is however not advisable to take aspirin on regular basis without the doctor’s instructions since it may cause bleeding or damage the stomach lining. People with multiple sclerosis, according to some research, have a low lung cancer risk.

Types of Lung Cancer

There are two main lung cancer types: Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer. The staging of lung cancer depends on whether the cancer has spread from lungs to lymph nodes or other organs, or whether the cancer is local. Since the lungs are very large, tumors can grow for a long duration before they are found. Symptoms such as fatigue and coughing may occur but people will always dismiss them thinking they are caused by other causes. Due to this reason, the early stages of lung cancer (stages I and II) are difficult to detect. Most people suffering from cancer are diagnosed at stages III and IV.

Treatment Options for Lung Cancer

There are four varied ways on how to treat lung cancer: targeted therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. The options for treatment and recommendations highly depend on a number of factors such as the patient’s overall health and preferences, the possible side effects and the stage and type of lung cancer. The care plan also includes treatment for the symptoms and the side effects.


A thoracic surgeon is mainly trained to perform lung cancer surgery. The aim of surgery in cancer treatment is to completely remove the lung tumor and the close by lymph nodes in the chest area. The tumor should be removed with a surrounding margin or border of normal lung tissue. Several types of surgery may possibly be used for lung cancer: Pneumonectomy, segmentectomy, a wedge, lobectomy, radiofrequency ablation and adjuvant therapy. Adjuvant therapy is the cure given after surgery to lessen the lung cancer risk returning. It involves chemotherapy, targeted therapy and radiation therapy. The intention behind adjuvant therapy is to rid the body of any cancer cells that may still be in the body after the surgery.

Radiation therapy

This is the application of high energy x-rays and other particles to destroy cells of cancer. A radiation oncologist gives radiation therapy to cancer patients. External-beam radiation therapy is the most regularly used form of radiation therapy used that is given by use of a machine that is outside the body. Brachytherapy, radiation treatment using implants, in not used for lung cancer. Lung cancer patients who undergo radiation therapy experience loss of appetite and fatigue. If therapy is administered in the center of the chest or neck, patients may have difficulty swallowing or experience a sore throat.


This is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells through stopping the cancer cells growth and division. Chemotherapy has been proven to improve the quality and length of life for the lung cancer patients in all stages. Common ways of administering chemotherapy is through placing an intravenous (IV) tube that is placed in the vein by use of needle or a capsule or pill administered orally. Chemotherapy side effects depend on the dose used and individual. They include hair loss, diarrhea, appetite loss, vomiting, nausea, fatigue and risk of infection. The side effects normally go away when the treatment is finished.

Targeted therapy

This form of treatment blocks the spread and growth of cancer cells whilst limiting harm to healthy cells. For lung cancer, the types of targeted therapy administered include anti-angiogenesis therapy.


It is not always possible to recover fully from cancer. When the treatment does not succeed, the disease is called terminal or advanced cancer. Diagnosis is very stressful for many patients to discuss. It is however crucial to have an honest and open discussion with the healthcare team or doctor to express concerns, preferences and feelings. Patients with advanced cancer and expected to live for less than six months should consider palliative care known as hospice. Hospice care is intended to provide the possible best quality life for people near the end of life.


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Radiation therapy is one of the options to treat the cancer, and uses high-energy x-rays or gamma rays targeted at the tumour to shrink the tumours or kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy most often uses X-rays, but protons or other types of energy also can be used.

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