Lung cancer, of which the frequency has rapidly increased in recent years, is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both our country and the rest of the world. The rate of incidence for lung cancer, which ranks first among the cancer types encountered in men, is on the rise for women as well. The main reason that underlies this disease, with which 50 thousand people are diagnosed in Turkey each year, is smoking! As a matter of fact, the disease develops as a result of active or passive smoking in 90% of the cases. Professor Özlem Er, head of the Oncology Department in the Faculty of Medicine of Acıbadem University and a medical oncology specialist at Acıbadem Maslak Hospital, states that 75 % of the patients with lung cancer are diagnosed in the advanced phases, which are the third and fourth stages, and underlines that this is due to the insidious progress of the diseases and the fact that patients tend to underestimate some of the primary symptoms. Professor Özlem Er says that a lack of complaints in people who smoke for many years does not necessarily mean that they do not have lung cancer and, within scope of an interview for November 17th, International Lung Cancer Awareness Day, has shared with us the circumstances under which lung cancer may be suspected, as well as significant warnings and recommendations on the subject.
- Coughing with gradually increasing severity
Even though coughing is among the first symptoms of lung cancer, it is an unfortunate fact that patients generally ignore it, thinking that it is related to other conditions. However, persistent and unexplained coughing which lasts longer than two weeks and gradually increases in severity is the primary indicator of the presence of this dangerous disease. Blood in phlegm or dark brown colored phlegm are also important signs of lung cancer.
- Chest pain
It is without a doubt that chest pain occurs due to many varying reasons. However, it should be recognized that chest pain is also among the primary symptoms of lung cancer. If the pain increases when you take a deep breath or laugh, make sure to consult a doctor as soon as possible. Thinking that it is caused by a cold and can be overcome with herbal tea or cough syrup will cause you to waste time.
- Shortness of breath
Respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and wheezing can appear in all stages of lung cancer. It is an unfortunate fact that shortness of breath, which is an important indicator of this insidious disease, is not given the consideration it deserves. While old or overweight people put the shortness of breath they are suffering from to their conditions, young people simply neglect to consult to a doctor due to their busy schedules. However, early diagnosis is critically important and when suffering from shortness of breath, it is essential to avoid attributing it to other circumstances and consult a specialist instead.
- Lack of appetite and weight loss
Lack of appetite should be especially taken seriously in cases of active smokers and individuals should not shy away from visiting a doctor. Unexplained weight loss should also not be neglected because it is one of the significant indicators of lung cancer as well.
- Hoarseness and swallowing difficulty
Medical Oncologist professor Özlem Er states that hoarseness and swallowing difficulty, which are among the symptoms of lung cancer, can occur due to various reasons and says, “Notwithstanding this fact, it is essential to consult a doctor in cases of hoarseness that occur in the absence of a cold. Patient’s complaints, medical history and examination findings are critically important for diagnosis”.
Rapid fatigue, continuous tiredness and weakness are also among the frequently encountered lung cancer symptoms which should not be made light of. Unfortunately, since these complaints can arise from many reasons such as the fast pace of the daily life, psychological problems, seasonal conditions and iron deficiency anemia which is very common in our country, and due to the fact that such complaints are just passed over in conversations among friends with statements such as “I feel very weak/I am so tired/I get exhausted much quicker these days”, people tend to neglect making time to consult a doctor. However, if these complaints have started to affect daily life negatively or are accompanied by respiratory system complaints, undergoing a lung screening is vitally important.
- Finger clubbing
Finger clubbing occurs when the soft tissue at the ends of fingers and toes swells and bulges. While it generally develops slowly and painlessly in cases outside of lung cancer, the condition occurs much faster and painfully when accompanying lung cancer. The complaints subside with cancer treatment.
- Pain in back, shoulder blades and shoulders
While back and shoulder pain is frequently encountered in our country, people with desk jobs interpret it as being due to poor posture and long hours spent in front of a computer screen. As a matter of fact, when lung cancer is spread in the body, it leads to symptoms such as pain in the back, shoulders, shoulder blades, arms and legs, as well as head when it reaches the brain. Enlargement of the glands in the neck and the collar bone is particularly indicative of lung cancer.
- Frequently recurring infections
Frequently recurring respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia on which treatment fail are among the symptoms of lung cancer. Particularly those who have smoked more than one packet of cigarettes per day for longer than 15 years and those who have quit smoking less than 15 years ago are recommended to undergo screening at least once a year. Scientific studies show that early diagnosis of lung cancer is possible in people between the ages of 55 and 74 who have a history of intensive smoking through low-dose lung tomography. While the success rate of treatment can be up to 80% or 90% in the early stage, which is referred to as stage 1, it is essential for those who have smoked for many years to go through regular checkups.
- Beware of symptoms in the eyes!
Medical Oncologist Professor Özlem Er says, “Drooping of an eyelid and constriction of a pupil, as well as absence of sweating (anhidrosis) on the same part of the face, may be indicative of lung cancer. This condition is referred to as Horner’s syndrome.
2 significant developments that increase life expectancy
Medical Oncologist Professor Özlem Er, who notes that two recent developments in treatment of lung cancer are very promising, says, “Use of target-specific treatments through research on the genome properties of lung cancer tumors, particularly on the presence of genetic changes such as EGFR and ALK mutations, have increased life expectancy of patients. It has also led to significant decrease in the side effects caused by treatment. The second of these recent developments was in immunotherapy. Use of immunotherapy in treatment of advanced stage lung cancer has provided significant improvements in the survival and life quality of patients. It is possible to apply immunotherapy before chemotherapy via identification the specific properties of tumors during diagnosis”.