Lungs, the key organs of the respiratory system, make breathing possible for us by letting oxygen from the air we breathe inside our blood vessels while breathing in and removing carbon dioxide from our body while breathing out. This makes the lungs two of the most vital organs in our whole body.
Lungs can develop cancer when they are exposed to certain cancer-causing (carcinogens) agents like radon, asbestos, tobacco, radioactive ores, and more. There are multiple causes of lung cancer, and some of them include smoking, exposure to cancer-causing substances, and genetic inheritance. Along with the causes, it is important to learn the symptoms of the different stages of lung cancer.
Lung cancer doesn’t show symptoms until the later stages; this is why the survival rate of lung cancer patients is low. However, upon identifying the risk factors and causes and having an increased risk of lung cancer, one can get themselves checked for any early signs of cancer when advised by their doctor.
Those with an increased risk of cancer, one can consider getting a lung cancer screening and low-dose CT scans every year. Screening for lung cancer is usually offered to people over 55 years who are heavy smokers and are healthy. In case of any sign of cancer, the doctor often runs some tests in order to get a proper diagnosis.
Diagnosing lung cancer
Proper diagnosis involves different kinds of tests that confirm the cancer. Some tests for diagnosing cancer are mentioned below:
- Imaging tests: With the help of imaging test, doctors are able to draw pictures of the changes taking place inside of the body using X-rays, sound waves, magnetic fields, or radioactive particles. In this diagnosis, doctors look at any of the lung nodules to check their size. Ideally, they are small round shaped and grow up to 3 centimeters; when the growth is bigger than that, it is considered as a malignant tumor and diagnosis is confirmed.
- Sputum cytology: Those who have a persistent cough that produces sputum, doctors take a look at the sputum under the microscope to look for the presence of lung cancer cells.
- A tissue sample or biopsy: In this procedure, doctors remove a sample of abnormal cells from the inner lining of the lungs for a biopsy to check whether there is any development of cancer cells. There are many ways to perform a biopsy that include bronchoscopy, mediastinoscopy, and needle biopsy.
- PET scan: Also known as Positron emission tomography scans, these scans provide useful information about the size of the nodule, thereby revealing its nature (benign or malignant) to the doctors. In this test, the patient is first given an intravenous injection that contains tracer, a radioactive substance, that is absorbed in the lungs and other organs. The tracer is then absorbed more by cancerous cells for having higher metabolism as opposed to healthy cells. Subsequently, with the combined help of 3D imaging and PET/CT scan, doctors are able to see the tracer-absorbed cancerous cells and make their diagnosis.