Lung Cancer – Types & Risk Factors

By Rey Maquiling (RN pending – Dec 2011)

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Lung cancer is the defined as the abnormal growth (otherwise known as a lung tumor) of tissues in the lungs that competes with the nourishment and oxygen with the normal tissues. They spread rapidly and eventually, affect other parts of the body thereby compromising the normal processes and functions of organs. Most lung tumors are categorized as malignant and can significantly destroy healthy tissues surrounding them.

Lung cancer is divided into two main categories based on the way the tumor looks when viewed under a microscope:

Non-Small Cell Lung Carcinoma (NSCLC)

This is the most common type of lung cancer and accounts for about 85% to 87% of all the cases. It is characterized by slow growth and lack of symptoms. Normally, when about 40% of people are diagnosed, it normally has spread to other parts of the body other than the chest.

Small Cell Lung Carcinoma (SCLC)

The incidence of this type of cancer is about 13% to 15% of all the lung cancer types. However, despite its low incidence, it is the most aggressive type as it has the tendency to spread rapidly and metastasize. More than 80% of the times, when it is diagnosed, it has already spread to other parts of the body.

Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women all over the world. It occurs most prevalently between the ages of 45 and 70. In Canada alone, it is projected that by the end of 2011, some 25,300 Canadians (13,200 of which are men and 12,100 are women) will be inflicted with this chronic disease. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an average of 56 Canadians die of lung cancer everyday causing a resounding alarm not only in Canada but also all across the globe.

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Risk Factors

The leading cause and culprit behind the increasing incidence of lung cancer is cigarette smoking. It accounts for about 85% of the lung cancer cases. However, lung cancer can also occur to lifelong non-smokers because of its marked link with secondhand smoke. Studies have shown that prolonged exposure and breathing of secondhand smoke is more potent because it contains thousands of toxic chemicals including benzene and formaldehyde and lingers more in the air. As a healthy, non-smoking lung inhales these chemicals, it can cause irritation to the lungs and depletion of oxygen in the blood. Other risk factors associated with lung cancer include:

    • Uncontrolled and high levels of air pollution
    • Unhealthy levels of arsenic in drinking water
    • Inhalation of asbestos and other toxic gases including radon
    • Familial history of lung cancer
    • Radiation therapy on the lungs
    • Prolonged exposure to carcinogenic or cancer-causing chemicals like uranium, vinyl chloride, nickel chromates, coal products, chloromethyl ethers, gasoline, and diesel exhaust
    • Certain types of viral infection