Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality in the world. There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell. According to the American Lung Association, smoking, a main cause of both types of lung cancer, contributes to 80 and 90% of lung cancer deaths in women and men, respectively. Men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer. Women are 13 times more likely, compared to never-smokers. Non-smokers have a 20 to 30% greater chance of developing lung cancer if exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work.
It’s not just tobacco smoking that is responsible for the epidemic. Since the 1950s, studies have shown that long-term exposure to combustion-related, fine particulate air pollution is an environmental risk factor for lung cancer deaths. Industrial revolution pollutants, such as power stations, motor vehicles and industrial sources, are proven carcinogens. However, natural gases, such as uranium and radon, are also shown to influence lung cancer development.
Genetics also have an influence on the development of lung cancers, as they affect some families more than others. Many people with lung cancer often have no or only a few vague symptoms in the early stages of the disease – the signs and symptoms can occur slowly over a long period of time. It’s not uncommon for a symptom to become accustomed to and ‘normalised’, rather than acted upon. Symptoms, such as fatigue, pain in bones, back, chest or the liver area, persistent coughing, hoarseness of voice, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite and dramatic weight loss, can all point towards a lung cancer diagnosis.
In 2017, information published in the The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics described a new blood test that can accurately and quickly identify genetic mutations associated with non-small cell lung cancer, allowing clinicians to make earlier, individualised treatment choices. Mainstream treatments still involve chemotherapy, surgery and/or radiation. However, more recently treatments have improved with the advent of two classes of drugs, molecularly targeted therapies and immunotherapies.