Monday, July 21, 2008

Lung Cancer

What is cancer of the lung?

Cancer of the lung, like all cancers, results from an abnormality in the body's basic unit of life, the cell. Normally, the body maintains a system of checks and balances on cell growth so that cells divide to produce new cells only when needed. Disruption of this system of checks and balances on cell growth results in an uncontrolled division and proliferation of cells that eventually forms a mass known as a tumor.

Tumors can be benign or malignant; when we speak of "cancer," we refer to those tumors that are considered malignant. Benign tumors can usually be removed and do not spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, grow aggressively and invade other tissues of the body, allowing entry of tumor cells into the bloodstream or lymphatic system which spread the tumor to other sites in the body. This process of spread is termed metastasis; the areas of tumor growth at these distant sites are called metastases. Since lung cancer tends to spread, or metastasize, very early in its course, it is a very life-threatening cancer and one of the most difficult cancers to treat. While lung cancer can spread to any organ in the body, certain organs—particularly the adrenal glands, liver, brain, and bone—are the most common sites for lung cancer metastasis.

The lung is also a very common site for metastasis from tumors in other parts of the body. Tumor metastases are made up of the same type of cells as the original, or primary, tumor. For example, if prostate cancer spreads via the bloodstream to the lungs, it is metastatic prostate cancer in the lung and is not lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Picture

Picture of lung cancer

The principal function of the lungs is the exchange of gases between the air we breathe and the blood. Through the lung, carbon dioxide is removed from the body and oxygen from inspired air enters the bloodstream. The right lung has three lobes, while the left lung is divided into two lobes and a small structure called the lingula that is the equivalent of the middle lobe. The major airways entering the lungs are the bronchi, which arise from the trachea. The bronchi branch into progressively smaller airways called bronchioles that end in tiny sacs known as alveoli, where gas exchange occurs. The lungs and chest wall are covered with a thin layer of tissue called the pleura.

Lung cancers can arise in any part of the lung, and 90%-95% of cancers of the lung are thought to arise from the epithelial, or lining cells of the larger and smaller airways (bronchi and bronchioles); for this reason, lung cancers are sometimes called bronchogenic carcinomas or bronchogenic cancers. Cancers can also arise from the pleura (the thin layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs), called mesotheliomas, or rarely from supporting tissues within the lungs, for example, blood vessels.

How common is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is responsible for the most cancer deaths in both men and women throughout the world. The American Cancer Society estimates that 213,380 new cases of lung cancer in the U.S. will be diagnosed and 160,390 deaths due to lung cancer will occur in 2007. Lung cancer is predominantly a disease of the elderly; almost 70% of people diagnosed with the condition are over 65 years of age, while less than 3% of cases occur in people under age 45.

Lung cancer was not common prior to the 1930s but increased dramatically over the following decades as tobacco smoking increased. In many developing countries, the incidence of lung cancer is beginning to fall following public education about the dangers of cigarette smoking and effective smoking-cessation programs. Nevertheless, lung cancer remains among the most common types of cancers in both men and women worldwide.

Lung cancer has also surpassed breast cancer in causing the most cancer-related deaths in women in the United States.

What causes lung cancer?


The incidence of lung cancer is strongly correlated with cigarette smoking, with about 90% of lung cancers arising as a result of tobacco use. The risk of lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes smoked over time; doctors refer to this risk in terms of pack-years of smoking history (the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day multiplied by the number of years smoked). For example, a person who has smoked two packs of cigarettes per day for 10 years has a 20 pack-year smoking history. While the risk of lung cancer is increased with even a 10 pack-year smoking history, those with 30 pack-year histories or more are considered to have the greatest risk for the development of lung cancer. Among those who smoke two or more packs of cigarettes per day, one in seven will die of lung cancer.

Pipe and cigar smoking can also cause lung cancer, although the risk is not as high as with cigarette smoking. While someone who smokes one pack of cigarettes per day has a risk for the development of lung cancer that is 25 times higher than a nonsmoker, pipe and cigar smokers have a risk of lung cancer that is about five times that of a nonsmoker.

Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemical compounds, many of which have been shown to be cancer-causing, or carcinogenic. The two primary carcinogens in tobacco smoke are chemicals known as nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The risk of developing lung cancer decreases each year following smoking cessation as normal cells grow and replace damaged cells in the lung. In former smokers, the risk of developing lung cancer begins to approach that of a nonsmoker about 15 years after cessation of smoking. For more, please read the Smoking and Quitting Smoking article.

Passive smoking

Passive smoking, or the inhalation of tobacco smoke from other smokers sharing living or working quarters, is also an established risk factor for the development of lung cancer. Research has shown that nonsmokers who reside with a smoker have a 24% increase in risk for developing lung cancer when compared with other nonsmokers. An estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths occur each year in the U.S. that are attributable to passive smoking.

Asbestos fibers

Asbestos fibers are silicate fibers that can persist for a lifetime in lung tissue following exposure to asbestos. The workplace is a common source of exposure to asbestos fibers, as asbestos was widely used in the past for both thermal and acoustic insulation materials. Today, asbestos use is limited or banned in many countries, including the Unites States. Both lung cancer and mesothelioma (a type of cancer of the pleura or of the lining of the abdominal cavity called the peritoneum) are associated with exposure to asbestos. Cigarette smoking drastically increases the chance of developing an asbestos-related lung cancer in exposed workers. Asbestos workers who do not smoke have a fivefold greater risk of developing lung cancer than nonsmokers, and those asbestos workers who smoke have a risk that is 50 to 90 times greater than nonsmokers.

Radon gas

Radon gas is a natural, chemically inert gas that is a natural decay product of uranium. It decays to form products that emit a type of ionizing radiation. Radon gas is a known cause of lung cancer, with an estimated 12% of lung cancer deaths attributable to radon gas, or 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer-related deaths annually in the U.S., making radon the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. As with asbestos exposure, concomitant smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer with radon exposure. Radon gas can travel up through soil and enter homes through gaps in the foundation, pipes, drains, or other openings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. contains dangerous levels of radon gas. Radon gas is invisible and odorless, but it can be detected with simple test kits.

Familial predisposition

While the majority of lung cancers are associated with tobacco smoking, the fact that not all smokers eventually develop lung cancer suggests that other factors, such as individual genetic susceptibility, may play a role in the causation of lung cancer. Numerous studies have shown that lung cancer is more likely to occur in both smoking and nonsmoking relatives of those who have had lung cancer than in the general population. Recent research has localized a region on the long (q) arm of the human chromosome number 6 that is likely to contain a gene that confers an increased susceptibility to the development of lung cancer in smokers.

Lung diseases

The presence of certain diseases of the lung, notably chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is associated with a slightly increased risk (four to six times the risk of a nonsmoker) for the development of lung cancer even after the effects of concomitant cigarette smoking are excluded.

Prior history of lung cancer

Survivors of lung cancer have a greater risk than the general population of developing a second lung cancer. Survivors of non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs, see below) have an additive risk of 1%-2% per year for developing a second lung cancer. In survivors of small cell lung cancers (SCLCs), the risk for development of second cancers approaches 6% per year.

Air pollution

Air pollution from vehicles, industry, and power plants can raise the likelihood of developing lung cancer in exposed individuals. Up to 1% of lung cancer deaths are attributable to breathing polluted air, and experts believe that prolonged exposure to highly polluted air can carry a risk similar to that of passive smoking for the development of lung cancer.

See more : Source causes, treatment and more

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Horrible awful stuff. I just saw an article today about a new mesothelioma victims unit that just opened that provides free help for victims and their families.