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Lung Cancer

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The Health Index

Lung cancer commonly originates from the cells of the lower respiratory tract (bronchi). This is why it is also called ‘bronchial carcinoma’. Doctors distinguish between a small-cell and a non-small-cell form of lung cancer. Small cell bronchial carcinomas grow quickly and often develop metastases, which are related tumours in other organs. However, this form only occurs in 20 percent of cases. About eight out of ten patients have non-small cell lung cancer.

 

Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer in men and women in the UK. According to Cancer Research, there are around 47,800 new cases of lung cancer every year. Men are affected slightly more often than women. Since the 1980s, however, fewer and fewer men have been newly diagnosed with lung cancer, while the number of women is increasing. Experts attribute this to the fact that more women smoke today than in the past.

Lungs Sketch

What are the causes?

Tobacco smoke is the biggest avoidable risk factor for developing cancer. Tobacco contains over 4,800 substances, of which about 90 are either proven or suspected carcinogens. It is estimated that smoking is responsible for up to nine out of ten lung cancers.

 

The longer and more someone smokes, the higher the risk of developing lung cancer. Those who started smoking as early as their teenage years are particularly at risk. The radioactive noble gas radon is suspected to be the second most important cause of lung cancer after smoking. It occurs naturally in the soil, the concentration varies from region to region.

 

Especially in older buildings the gas can penetrate into cellars and the ground floor. Ventilation is considered to be the simplest measure to reduce radon exposure in houses. Other important environmental risk factors are vehicle emissions and air pollution. Workers in ship building, construction, mining and metal processing in particular are sometimes exposed to fine dusts, which have been shown to promote illness. Asbestos, a hard-wearing fibrous material which used to be widely used in the construction industry as an insulating material, for example, is particularly well known.

 

The use of asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999. Hereditary factors may play a role in the development of lung cancer. This is particularly suspected in people who develop this type of tumour at a young age. However, not much is known about the genetic predisposition and more research is required.

Image by Darius Bashar

What are the symptoms?

Lung cancer rarely causes symptoms in the early stages. Signs and symptoms often don’t appear until the disease is already advanced. Smaller tumours are therefore often only discovered by chance, for example when the lungs are X-rayed for other reasons. In addition, the symptoms are usually not clearly attributable to lung cancer but can also point to other diseases.

 

If you have the following symptoms, it is important to see your doctor immediately to get the cause explained:

 

  • A cough persisting for longer than three weeks without any other known cause, or aggravation of a chronic cough

  • Prolonged sputum with and without blood admixture

  • Unclear fever spikes

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain Hoarseness and difficulty swallowing

  • Bone pain Lymph node swelling above the collarbone

  • Fatigue, reduced performance and weight loss

 

High-risk patients include smokers – particularly elderly smokers -, patients with chronic bronchitis, patients with personal or family history of cancer, and people with occupational exposure to known pollutants (e.g. builders, ship builders, metal workers, taxi drivers etc.).

Image by Drew Hays

How can a nutrition practitioner help?

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer and are being treated, your nutrition practitioner will work alongside your medical team. Knowing how, what and when to eat while on cancer treatment can have a considerable impact on how you feel during treatment. A nutritional approach always depends on the individual case but may focus on diet and lifestyle interventions generally used to prevent or manage inflammation, which may help reduce pain and speed up recovery.

 

A nutrition practitioner will ask questions about your overall health and health history, diet, lifestyle and exercise habits. They will look at your food diary to see where there may be room for improvement. Your nutrition practitioner may also recommend functional testing. They will then develop a customised diet, supplement and lifestyle plan for you

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