Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of men and women. Over 165,000 people die of lung cancer every year in the United States. Most cases of lung cancer are related to cigarette smoking. Therefore, if you smoke, it is best to stop smoking as soon as possible.
This reference summary will help you better understand lung cancer and the treatment options that are available.
Cancer and Its Causes
The body is made up of billions of small cells. Together, many cells make up organs, like the lungs, the heart, or the bones. Usually, when the cells get old or damaged, they die and are replaced by new cells. Sometimes, cells continue to grow and divide when they aren’t needed, causing an abnormal growth called a tumor. There are two kinds of tumors.
If the tumor does not invade nearby body parts, it is called a benign tumor or a non-cancerous growth. Benign tumors are rarely life threatening. Benign tumors usually do not need to be removed. Benign tumors are not cancer.
If the tumor does invade and destroy nearby cells, it is called a malignant tumor or cancer. Malignant lung tumors may grow back after being removed. Cancer can be life threatening.
Cancerous cells spread by breaking from the original tumor. They enter blood vessels or lymph vessels, which branch into all the tissues of the body.
Lymph is a nearly clear fluid produced by the body that drains waste from cells. It travels through special vessels and bean-shaped structures called lymph nodes.
The cancer cells attach to other organs and form new tumors that may damage those organs. The spread of cancer is called metastasis. Cancer treatments aim to kill or control cancerous cells.
Cancers in the body are given names, depending on where they first began. Cancer that begins in the lungs will always be called lung cancer, even if it has spread to another place such as the liver, bones, or brain.
Although doctors can locate where a cancer started, the cause of cancer in a patient cannot usually be identified. Cells contain hereditary, or genetic, materials called chromosomes. This genetic material controls the growth of the cell.
Cancer tends to run in families, so people with close relatives that have cancer should be examined regularly for any sign of it. Cancer always develops from changes that occur in the chromosomes.
When the genetic material in a cell becomes abnormal, it can lose the ability to control its growth. Sudden changes in genetic material can occur for a variety of reasons. This tendency may be inherited.
Experts also agree that smoking tobacco, chewing tobacco and being exposed to tobacco smoke can all lead to lung cancer. Exposure to chemicals or other factors in the environment, like pollution or asbestos, a material found in old wall insulation in homes, might increase cancer risk, too.
Symptoms and Their Causes
There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell and small cell. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common, slow growing, and does not spread to other organs rapidly. Small cell lung cancer is not as common as non-small cell. But it is fast growing and spreads very rapidly to other organs.
Cigarette smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke causes the majority of lung cancer cases. Cigarettes contain over 4000 chemicals. 40 of these chemicals can cause cancer. Smoking filtered or unfiltered cigarettes does not help prevent cancer.
Chewing tobacco also causes cancer. Pipe and cigar smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, although not as severely as cigarette smoking.
Exposure to pollution, radioactive materials, asbestos and other products also increases the chance of developing lung cancer.
Stopping smoking and avoiding exposure to cancer-causing environments, like
chemicals, lowers your risk of developing lung cancer, even after years of smoking.
Early lung cancer often does not cause symptoms. But as the cancer grows, common symptoms may include:
• A cough that gets worse or does not go away
• Coughing up blood
• Shortness of breath, chest pain, or wheezing
• Weight loss with no known cause or loss of appetite
Other symptoms of lung cancer include:
• Swelling in the face or neck
• Repeated lung infections or bronchitis
• General weakness, specifically in the shoulder, arm, or hand
Chest x-rays are very useful in determining whether there are any abnormalities in the lungs. Abnormal spots found during x-rays are called lesions. A CAT scan of the lung, which is a more detailed x-ray of the lungs, helps determine the exact location of lesions found on a chest x-ray.
Finding Lung Cancer Cells:
The only sure way to know if lung cancer is present is for a pathologist to check samples of cells or tissue. The pathologist studies the sample under a microscope and performs other tests.
There are many ways to collect samples:
• Sputum cytology: sputum is coughed up from the lungs
• Thoracentesis: the doctor uses a long needle to remove pleural fluid from the chest
• Bronchoscopy: The doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube through the nose or mouth into the lung for examination and possible removal of cells
• Fine needle aspiration: the doctor uses a thin needle to remove tissue or fluid from the lung or lymph node.
After a biopsy of the lung lesion is done, the pathologist helps determine if the lesion is cancerous or not. If the lesion is found to be cancerous, the doctor will need more tests to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, and to find out what stage the cancer is in.
The further a cancer has spread, the higher the stage. If it appears that the cancer has spread, further tests may be performed to determine the exact location of the cancer.
A bone scan, a special radiological exam, may be done to check the bones.
Your doctor may recommend a CAT scan to check for cancer that may have spread to the abdomen and pelvis areas.
They may also recommend you get an MRI of the head to check for cancer that may have spread to your brain. Blood tests may be necessary to check for anemia, liver, or kidney problems.
However, lung lesions may not turn out to be cancerous. A lung lesion may indicate an old or new infection in the lungs. Lung lesions may also indicate benign tumors, as opposed to malignant tumors, which are cancerous. Benign tumors do not have cancer cells in them.
Proton Therapy for Lung Cancer Treatment
Because it delivers the maximum amount of radiation to tumors, proton therapy is particularly well-suited to treat cancer in the lung and chest. This precision technology directly targets diseased tissue, while reducing radiation exposure to lungs, heart, spinal cord, esophagus, soft tissues and bone.
Proton can be an effective therapy for early-stage lung cancer patients who cannot undergo surgery. It can also be used when cancer has returned to areas that were previously irradiated or as a palliative treatment.
Proton treatments can also be used in conjunction with chemotherapy. Because less radiation hits areas outside the tumor, side effects and complications can often be reduced. Less exposure to healthy tissue can also minimize the risk of secondary cancers and other complications years after treatment.
Chest and lung cancers treated
- Non-small cell lung cancer
- Small cell lung cancer
- Malignant mesothelioma
- Selected recurrent and metastatic cancer
- Mediastinal tumors (thymoma, sarcoma)
Clinical Evidence Shows that Proton Therapy is an Effective Treatment for Lung Cancer, with Fewer Side Effects
The image on the right shows the amount of radiation that the body receives during treatment for stage III NSCLC with proton therapy in comparison to X-ray/IMRT treatment. Colors indicate areas of your body that received radiation. Compared to IMRT, proton therapy significantly reduced the dose of radiation to surrounding tissue, especially the heart and the healthy lung.
Doctors and scientists have been studying the results of proton therapy in the treatment of NSCLC.
One study in particular showed that patients with stage III NSCLC who were treated with proton therapy experienced lower rates of pneumonitis and esophagitis (inflammations of the lungs and esophagus) compared to patients treated with X-ray radiation therapy techniques such as three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3-D CRT) and IMRT. At the same time, proton therapy achieved similar efficacy as 3-D CRT and IMRT.
This is great news for you and your loved ones because now you have a powerful tool to fight lung cancer that can reduce your risk of side effects.
What to expect
Each patient’s therapy is precisely tailored to their needs. Patients and clinicians collaborate closely to create a personalized treatment plan. The number and length of treatments will vary, based on the cancer. How patients respond depends on many factors, including the types of Lung cancer treatments they are receiving. Many people tolerate proton therapy well and continue to perform normal activities. However, individual responses vary.
Advantages of Proton Therapy for Lung Cancer
Although proton radiation treatment is relatively new, clinical trials for Cervical cancer have already shown excellent signs of disease control and minimal side effects compared with traditional forms of treatment. Proton therapy also offers a number of other compelling benefits:
- Treatment is noninvasive and painless
- Proton therapy is effective for treating early stage Lung cancer
- Treatment offers quicker recovery times with minimal side effects
- It is more accurate and precise than other kinds of radiation
- Treatment is provided in an outpatient setting
- Proton radiation has little to no impact on patient energy level