Lung Cancer Awarenss
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. This is an important time of the year, that brings the community together to help provide awareness, and to inform and educate people on the signs and symptoms of the disease. It is the fifth most common cancer in Australia, with around 12,000 Australians diagnosed each year.
In 2015, 11,788 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed in Australia, this equates to nearly 9% of all cancers that were diagnosed that year. In 2016, 8410 deaths were caused by lung cancer in Australia.
What is Lung Cancer?
Lung Cancer develops from abnormal cells that grow and multiply in a fast and uncontrollable way in one or both lungs. Cancer that starts in the lungs is called the primary cancer but can often spread to other organs and parts of the body such as brain, lymph nodes, liver, and bones.
There are two main types of primary lung cancer, and they are classified according to the type of cells that are affected.
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for around 85% of diagnosed cases. There are sub types of non-small cell lung cancer, the most common are:
- Adenocarcinoma – starts in mucus producing cells, and often found in the outer parts of the lungs
- Squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma – begins in thin, flat cells, which are most often found in larger airways.
- Large cell undifferentiated carcinoma – these cancer cells are not clearly squamous or adenocarcinoma
Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)
SCLC makes up the remaining 15% of lung cancers diagnosed, this cancer often starts in the middle of the lungs and usually spreads quicker than NSCLC.
Causes of Lung Cancer
While the causes of lung cancer aren’t fully understood and research doesn’t provide evidence as to why someone is prone to cancer over others, or why some people develop this disease without any known risks being present. The common factors that increase your risk of lung cancer include:
- Smoking tobacco
- Second-hand smoking
- Exposure to asbestos
- Exposure to radon
- Exposure to occupational substances such as uranium, chromium, nickel, diesel fumes, and soot
- HIV infection
- Family history
- History of lung disease such as lung fibrosis or emphysema
Having any of these symptoms does not mean you will develop lung cancer, it is imperative to speak with your GP if you have any concerns.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
The risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer by age 85 is 1 in 13 for men and 1 in 21 for women, with a survival rate of 17%, with statistics like this is important that we are all aware of the signs and symptoms of this disease. These include:
- Shortness of breath and wheezing
- Chest pain
- Coughing or spitting up blood
- A new cough that does not go away
- Recurring bronchitis or pneumonia
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
Cancer Australia have released a new awareness video called, What’s your cough telling you? In a bid to raise awareness of the symptoms that lung cancer can present with.
Treatment for Lung Cancer
The treatment you receive for lung cancer will depend on the type of cancer that has been diagnosed, how advanced it is, and what your overall general health is.
If you have early stage non-small cell lung cancer, then surgery will be the first option to remove the tumour.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. It may be provided before surgery to shrink the tumour, and in conjunction with radiation which can improve its effectiveness.
This treatment uses x-rays to kill or damage the cancer cells and maybe combined with surgery and or chemotherapy.
If chemotherapy or radiation therapy isn’t a suitable treatment plan for you then may be offered ablation treatment of localised stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer, this process is carried out by inserting needles into the cancer to destroy cells by heating them.
Immunotherapy is the use of a specific drug to stimulate the body’s own immune system and can be used to treat some forms of non-small cell lung cancer.
Targeted therapy or personalised medicine targets specific mutation in cancer cells, this option is often used for advanced non-small cell lung cancer of if the cancer has returned.
Each individual prognosis following the diagnosis of lung cancer depends on the type and stage of the cancers, as well as the patients age and general health.
Support and Services
Whether it’s you or a loved one, it’s important to seek support at every stage after a cancer diagnosis. Many people go through a grieving process and experience strong emotions, as they feel life as they know it is shifting. This can include a loss of independence, looks, lifestyle, and health.
It is important that if you have a history of depression or anxiety that you let your treatment team know, as the changes during treatment can make you more susceptible in regaining these feelings and emotions.
Common feelings and emotions:
- Fear and anxiety
- Anger, guilt, and blame
- Loss of control
- Shock and disbelief
Cancer Council NSW research has shown that people who participate in a support groups have lower levels of anxiety, and depressions than those who don’t, so here are a few options available in the Newcastle and Central Coast regions:
ConnectAbility Australia has a Family Counselling service located at Jesmond Neighbourhood Centre, with two experienced Family Counsellors available to see young people aged 9-18 years and their families. If you would like to talk to someone or get more information about this service, please call 02 4962 1000.
Hunter Cancer Centre has a broad range of services to help patients and their families.
Cancer Council NSW has 3 offices located at Charlestown, Singleton and Erina, so access to community support is within easy reach. To find support groups in your local area contact the Cancer Council on 13 11 20.
It is important to remember we are all individuals and people cope and deal with their emotions in different ways, but it may be reassuring to know you are not alone in how you are feeling during this time.
Host your own fundraising event, download the Complete Fundraising Toolkit from lungfoundation.com.au to help you get started. Join one of the up and coming Relay for Life events in your local area by visiting https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/events-calendar/.
Volunteer’s play an important role in cancer prevention, fundraising, and administration and in providing care, support, and hope to people affected by cancer. A small act of kindness, as a volunteer, can make a world of difference to someone dealing with this disease. If you would like to become involved in helping others, you can contact the Cancer Council for more information on 1300 65 65 85.