Lung cancer is the primary cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Although it is commonly believed that only people who smoke are at risk, data shows that roughly two-thirds of those affected have never smoked or have quit smoking.
Lung cancer strikes more people than breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer combined. These are the three other major cancer afflictions.
Lung cancer diagnosis involves a number of tests administered by a cancer specialist known as an oncologist. These tests include a CT scan, PET scan, Bronchoscopy, Needle biopsy, and surgical biopsy.
Once a lung cancer diagnosis is confirmed, the next step in the process is assessing and categorizing the disease according to specific variables such as the size of the tumor, the location, and whether it is originated in the lungs (primary), or spread to the lungs from a tumor in another part of the body (metastasized).
This phase in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer is known as staging and is usually referred to as TNM (Tumor, Lymph nodes, Metastasized).
Treatment procedures for lung cancer vary by patient depending on the type or stage of the disease. In primary, early stage lung cancer, the tumor can be eliminated through surgery and chemotherapy or radiation therapy. On the other hand, unless the tumor is small and the cancer non-aggressive, a cancerous growth cannot be easily eradicated with surgical procedures.
Minimally invasive surgery is sometimes recommended for primary lung cancer in the early stage. This procedure does not require opening of the chest cavity and it does not carry the inherent risks of a major surgery. It is usually backed up by chemotherapy or radiation therapy to eliminate the cancerous lung tissue. In this procedure, it is not uncommon for the patient to be out of the hospital in a day or two following the treatment.
In cases where minimally invasive procedures would be ineffective, or where the cancer is situated in a part of the lungs difficult to access, traditional open surgery is employed. This involves opening the chest and spreading the ribs in order to gain access to the cancer growth. After the procedure, a longer recovery period is expected and there is pain and discomfort for the patient. As with minimally invasive surgery, this technique too is followed by radiation or chemo as needed.
The disease may also reach an advanced stage where neither minimally invasive nor open surgery would remove the cancer. In other words, the disease becomes incurable. In such cases, alleviative surgery may be performed in order to minimize discomfort for the patient as the disease takes its course. An example of alleviative or palliative surgery is a procedure where a tumor that has grown big enough to obstruct an air passage is incised out.