What is lung cancer?
Like any other cancer, lung cancer also develops when cells start growing abnormally and uncontrollably. The cells grow into a mass or tumor and invade surrounding tissues and organs. After that, it spreads to other parts of the body. It has the potential to grow back after being removed.
Who gets lung cancer?
Lung cancer can take many years to develop. Cigarette smoking is the most common risk factor for developing lung cancer. If you are exposed to cigarette smoke or some of its components, you may end up with permanent abnormal changes in your lungs. These changes can cause a cancerous tumor to develop within the lung.
It is imperative to talk to your doctor about possible side effects before you begin treatment. Everyone reacts differently to treatment, and being prepared helps whether you experience problems.
Complications of lung cancer
As lung cancer progresses towards the advanced stage, it can cause complications. Complications may vary from cancer spreading to other parts of your body or as a side effect of your treatment plan.
Tumors around the upper area of the right lung can put pressure on the superior vena cava (SVC), a vein that transports blood from the upper body to the heart. This may cause facial swelling.
If this happens, it can restrict blood flow and cause swelling in the face, neck, and arms. This condition is called SVC syndrome. It may need immediate treatment.
Lung cancer causes blockages in the central airways in around 30 percent of people with advanced lung cancer.
It can also cause the buildup of fluid around the lungs. It is called a pleural effusion. This may result in pain and shortness of breath. Large tumors or pleural effusions may compress the lungs, decrease lung function, and increase your risk of pneumonia. Pneumonia symptoms include cough, chest pain, and fever. If it is not treated on time, it can have a life-threatening result.
Higher risk of infection
Bronchitis and pneumonia are common symptoms of lung cancer. You are more prone to infection because of decreased immune system function from cancer or cancer treatments.
Lung cancer can spread to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. It can cause significant side effects depending on the area it applies to. Common sites of metastasis in lung cancer are:
The second lung
Tumors that are larger and have spread to other parts of the body indicate a more advanced stage of cancer.
People with lung cancer are at an incredibly high risk of deep vein thrombosis. This occurs when a blood clot develops in a deep vein, especially the lower leg or thigh. Factors that may increase the likelihood include:
long-term chemotherapy with a catheter in a central vein
having more advanced cancer
blood clots in other members of your family
sitting or lying down for extended periods
A blood clot can be life-threatening if it travels to the lungs. This condition, called a pulmonary embolism, can prevent blood flow to the lungs and is one of the leading causes of death in cancer patients.
Spitting up blood (hemoptysis)
People with lung cancer may also experience hemoptysis or bloody sputum when coughing. This may be due to bleeding in the airways or coughing, or irritating tumors.
According to research from 2019, around 20 people with lung cancer experience hemoptysis. Treatments are available to help manage cancer-related hemoptysis.
Sometimes lung cancer can lead to increased levels of calcium in the blood, known as hypercalcemia. This may occur when your body releases a protein called parathyroid hormone-related protein. Symptoms include:
Nausea or vomiting
Rarely, lung cancer may spread to the heart, where tumors can compress or block the veins and arteries. While there may be no symptoms at first, this spread may lead to life-threatening outcomes, such as:
blockage in the heart
buildup of fluid around the heart
Lung cancer may spread to the heart’s left atrium in up to 10 percentTrusted Source of cases, according to a 2019 case study. Treatment usually involves chemotherapy and radiation.
Spinal cord compression
Metastatic spinal cord compression occurs when cancer spreads to the spine and compresses or collapses the vertebrae. According to a study from 2016, around 28 percent of people with lung cancer develop this condition.
Symptoms of spinal cord compression include:
back pain for an extended period
weakness in the legs and arms
having trouble walking
This condition is an emergency, as the compression can permanently damage the spinal cord. If you have lung cancer and develop these symptoms, it’s essential to seek medical treatment right away.
It is rare for lung cancer to spread to the esophagus. If lung cancer reaches the esophagus, you may have trouble swallowing or experience more pain when food passes through the esophagus to your stomach. Radiation from treating lung cancer may also cause inflammation in the esophagus, creating difficulty when swallowing.
Neuropathy is a disorder that affects the nerves, mainly of the hands and feet.
Tumors located at the top of your lungs, called Pancoast tumors, can sometimes affect the nerves in your eyes and face. This can lead to Horner’s syndrome, a condition that includes:
a droopy eyelid on one side of the face
a smaller pupil in the same affected eye
a lack of sweating on the same, affected side of the face
Pancoast tumors often also affect the nerves in your shoulder, causing shoulder and arm pain.
Some cancer treatments can cause nerve damage as well, resulting in symptoms such as:
Inability to feel pain in the affected area
Medications are available to help manage symptoms of Neuropathy.
Pain is a common symptom of lung cancer. It can occur in different parts of the body, including ribs or chest muscles, or in other parts of the body where lung cancer has spread. It may be worse if you laugh, take a deep breath or cough.
The pain usually increases in the advanced stages of cancer. Cancer treatment may help with these symptoms, though treatments like surgery or chemotherapy may cause another discomfort. Pain-related lung cancer can often be managed with medication and radiation.
Medical cannabis for pain management
Medical cannabis is becoming very popular in managing pain as it has no side effects. It is approved by the FDA in the USA and Ayush Ministry in India. At ZenOnco.oi, we have a CBD expert who prescribes medical cannabis per individual requirements. It is highly beneficial in managing pain and inducing sleep.
How to prevent lung cancer complications
Detecting lung cancer early gives you a higher chance of treating it effectively and avoiding complications. However, It can be challenging to detect because symptoms often don’t show up until the disease is advanced.
If you are at high risk of lung cancer, your doctor may recommend yearly screenings to check for signs of the disease. Avoiding second-hand smoke can also minimize your chance of developing lung cancer.
Complications from lung cancer can crop up when the disease progresses, or treatment starts. If you notice signs of these complications, consult your oncologist immediately. The survival rate of lung cancer depends on the stage of cancer it is diagnosed. If it is diagnosed and treated in earlier stages, you have a better chance of survival. Most lung cancer cases are detected at later stages as symptoms that lead to diagnosis usually don’t arise until it is advanced.