Lung cancer: causes, symptoms, treatment, prognosis

Over the last sixty years, the number of people with lung cancer has increased faster than other types of cancer. Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, the increase in the disease is mainly due to the increase in the number of smokers. What are the symptoms and what are the options for treating lung cancer? What is the prognosis for lung cancer? Can you actually prevent lung cancer?

Article content

  • Lung
  • Lung cancer
  • Types of primary lung cancer
  • Causes of lung cancer
  • Fewer smokers and yet mortality is increasing, how is that possible?
  • Lung cancer symptoms
  • To the doctor!
  • Complications of lung cancer
  • Lung cancer diagnosis
  • Lung cancer treatment
  • Lung cancer prognosis
  • Can lung cancer be prevented?


The lung is the respiratory organ in the chest. A person has two lungs and in between them are the heart, the large blood vessels and the esophagus. The right lung consists of three lobes, the left lung is slightly smaller in size and consists of two lobes. The lobes are divided into segments. The lungs consist largely of very small alveoli. Alveoli are also called alveoli. Through the wall of the alveoli, oxygen from the inhaled air is exchanged for carbon dioxide from the blood.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is a malignant growth in the lung . The tumor usually arises in a bronchus, but can sometimes also arise in the alveoli themselves. Lung cancer is most common in people between the ages of fifty and seventy. More in men than in women, but the number of women with lung cancer is increasing. Smoking and certain occupations are risk factors, heredity probably plays a role.

Types of primary lung cancer

The type of lung cancer depends on the type of cell to which the tumor cell most closely resembles.

  • Non-small cell lung carcinoma : squamous cell, adeno and large cell lung carcinoma. Most of these types begin in the covering of the bronchi. Squamous cell carcinoma often grows more slowly than the other types and spread occurs late in the course of the disease.
  • Small cell lung carcinoma is the most malignant form: the cancer develops quickly and spreads quickly to other organs.

Lung metastasis is when the cancer has spread to the lungs from another organ. All blood passes through the lungs, which is why it is a place where metastases are common.

Causes of lung cancer

Smoking is the cause in eighty to ninety percent of cases and about fifteen percent of smokers eventually develop lung cancer. If you have never smoked, the chance of developing lung cancer is small, but the risk increases slightly in people who regularly ingest other people’s smoke. This is also called passive smoking .

Fewer smokers and yet mortality is increasing, how is that possible?

There is less smoking and yet mortality is still increasing. This is because cancer takes years to develop. So it will take some time before we see the effect of the measures taken to combat smoking and passive smoking.

Lung cancer symptoms

If lung cancer is discovered because someone has complaints, it is often already in the late stages:

  • You start coughing and the cough won’t go away;
  • You have been coughing for a while and that cough is changing;
  • Bloody mucus may be discharged;
  • Chest pain may occur, which may be dull, but may also cause a sharp and painful sensation when inhaling;
  • A tight feeling;
  • The fingernails may look abnormal: drumstick fingers;
  • If the airway is blocked, wheezing may occur.

To the doctor!

If you suffer from a cough that does not go away, or if the old coughing pattern changes, go to the doctor immediately. Also in case of the other symptoms above, make an appointment immediately!

Complications of lung cancer

  • Pneumonia can develop if part of the airways near the tumor is closed.
  • The tumor can also cause fluid to form between the membranes of the pleura. This may cause shortness of breath and may increase. Subsequently, a person will have less appetite for food and will lose weight.
  • If the tumor is high in the lung, it can affect the nerves to an arm. The arm may then be painful or become weaker.
  • In small cell lung carcinoma, hormone-like substances can be produced that can trigger endocrine disorders, such as Cushing’s syndrome .
  • Lung cancer can spread. Pain in the head may be the result of cancer that has spread to the brain.

Lung cancer diagnosis

In case of lung complaints, an X-ray of the chest will probably be taken. A tumor can usually be seen as a shadow. Furthermore, mucus samples can be examined and a bronchoscopy can be done. If a tumor is identified, a sample is taken and examined microscopically. In the case of a malignant tumor, it is checked whether there are any metastases. Blood can be examined, CT scans of the abdomen, brain and chest can be made to see whether the tumor has spread and to what extent. Scintigraphy can be performed to see whether the cancer has spread to the bones. The PET scan (nuclear examination) is used to assess the spread of the cancer. It can show even smaller metastases than CT.

Lung cancer treatment

  • For non-small cell lung cancer, treatment depends on the type of lung cancer and how extensive it is. If the cancer can be removed in its entirety, removal through surgery is a possibility. Usually a lobe is removed, but sometimes even the entire lung. However, if the cancer has already become so extensive that surgery is no longer possible, more and more chemo/radiotherapy is being used nowadays. Surgery may also be discouraged if the tumor is very large, or the location is difficult, or due to another serious condition (such as COPD).
  • Small cell lung carcinoma is usually not operated on because this cancer is very malignant and has usually already spread by the time it is diagnosed. The treatment then consists of a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Lung cancer prognosis

It is important that the cancer is detected early, then the outlook is best. Approximately fourteen percent of people with lung cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis. If the tumor is removed before it has spread, thirty to eighty percent will survive five years. The prognosis is less favorable with small cell lung carcinoma. More information about the forecast can be found at Treatments such as surgery or radio and chemotherapy cannot always prolong life. But treatment is also important because it can reduce the complaints and therefore the quality of a person’s life. If you have complaints of shortness of breath (because the tumor narrows the airways), radiotherapy can be applied or laser treatment can be done.

Can lung cancer be prevented?

As mentioned earlier, smoking is the cause in eighty to ninety percent of cases. People who quit smoking have a lower risk of cancer. People who stopped smoking a long time ago have only a slightly higher risk of lung cancer than people who have not smoked at all. Quitting smoking at any time always makes sense!