Non-small Cell Lung Cancer: A Complete Guide

Cancer has been affecting the earthlings for centuries and there has been no concrete cure for the same. Lung cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer and its patients are now growing in number as well. Previously, it was mainly found in the middle-aged men and women sometimes. But the recent cases that have surfaced, include a huge number of youngsters. And a common kind of lung cancer that has been observed is the non-small cell lung cancer, also called NSCLC.

Understanding Lung Cancer

The basic definition of lungs is known to us in elementary school. The fundamental function of these two spongy organs is to inhale and exhale air and separate the gases for their given purposes. When it comes to lung cancer, the cancerous cells start to originate in the lungs among the alveoli. Also, the effects of the cancer are not limited to the lungs and their functions, since the oxygenated blood from the lungs is spread all across the body, the symptoms of lung cancer are observed in different parts of the body as well.

What are Cancer Cells?

It is a common misunderstanding that cancer is caused because of some foreign organism entering the body. However, that is not entirely true. The cancer bulge is made up of nothing but the cells that constitute the body. But how to determine cancer cells? These are the body cells that have a characteristic feature to divide and multiply at quite a rate and form a bulge. Normally, all kinds of cells divide through mitosis or meiosis. But the normal cells stop dividing when there is no need to multiply. Cancer cells lack this property. These keep dividing and end up blocking the blood vessels, suppressing organs sometimes, disrupt the functioning of the organ or cause any other kind of discomfort to the patient. Treatment for cancer is the eradication of these cells and ensuring that the organ is same and functioning again.

Types of Lung Cancer

There are majorly two kinds of lung cancers – small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These can be understood as follows:

  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
    This kind of lung cancer is common and almost exclusive to the heavy smokers. It is also not as common as the non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
    This kind is the worse of the two and is a common type of lung cancer. There are different types of carcinoma that are included under NSCLC which include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma.

What is NSCLC?

The non-small cell lung cancer, NSCLC constitutes majority of the lung cancer cases. It is an epithelial kind of lung cancer that attacks the outer layer of the organs. The NSCLC has shown resistance to chemotherapy and, therefore, it has to be eradicated by the use of surgical methods. At times, a combination of both, chemotherapy and surgery is also applied in some cases. If not treated on time, the cancerous cells grow to become a bulge and symptoms start to worsen. Hence, it is extremely essential that any minor symptoms are checked and there are treatment must be acquired within the period of its initial stage.

Types of NSCLC

Even the non-small cell lung cancer can be divided into different categories further. There are three different major categories and these are explained in detail as follows:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
    The squamous cell carcinoma is found to be more common in men rather than women. It is also partly related to the history of smoking tobacco which has been prominent in men than women in the past. Smoking is the major cause of squamous cell carcinoma and it is also the most prevalent type of non-small cell lung cancer. This type of cancer generally grows in the center of the organ.
  • Adenocarcinoma
    Also called lung adenocarcinoma, it is the most common type of cancer that is detected in non-smokers. There are several causes to this kind which are not related to smoking. An adenocarcinoma is a peripheral kind of cancer that grows on the sides of the lung, which means, it grows on the covering of the lungs made up of epithelial cells. Sometimes, the adenocarcinoma and squamous cell lung cancer grow together forming even a larger bulge and exhibiting worse symptoms.
  • Large cell carcinoma
    This is a type of malignant cancer that is caused by a heterogeneous group of cells, mainly neoplasms. A large cell carcinoma originates from epithelial cells in the lungs. It is not always considered a type of non-small cell lung cancer because of its nature and the fact that neoplasms cannot be classified as small cells. It certainly is quite different from the squamous cell carcinoma and lung adenocarcinoma.

Risk factors of NSCLC

Prevention is better than cure. It is absolutely crucial to understand the causes and risk factors of any kind of cancer so that it can better be prevented than cured. Listed below are a few risk factors so that one can be aware of the causes and take necessary precautions:

  • Smoking
    Any kind of smoking, even if it is passive, it can cause NSCLC. Frequent smokers are prone to cancer but if someone even resides with a chain smoker, it is possible that even being a never smoker they are prone to cancer. Also take into consideration that quitting smoking at any age will lower the risks of cancer significantly.
  • Radon
    It is a gas that naturally occurs in soil and rocks. Causing of cancer due to radon is mostly seen in mine workers. However, there still are chances of radon gas spreading to different buildings and homes. If there are unhealthy and extreme amounts of radon gas in the air, the people who breathe such air are at a high risk of non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Asbestos
    Well, asbestos is a material that is used in the construction of the buildings because of their chemical ability. The cases of cancer caused because of asbestos are rare but they still exist. Not only are the people working in the construction at risk of cancer but also general residents. It is so because asbestos is present in Insulation in walls and attics, Vinyl tiles used for floors, Shingles, Siding on houses, etc.
  • Air pollution
    The way in which air pollution is growing and becoming deadly, it contributes a lot to the cause of cancer. There are several kinds of harmful gases that are present in the air and high pollutions levels can cause cancer in young people as well, even children.
  • Radiation treatment
    If any kind of radiation treatment has been acquired at the time on the chest or the breast, there are chances that it can stimulate the cancer cells. Cancer is one of the side effects of radiation and, hence, the amount of radiation to be procured should be in limit so that the side effects can be avoided.
    Suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome weakens the immune system of the patient. This is also one of the major causes of NSCLC. Certain precautions are to be taken and treatment for HIV/AIDS must be acquired in time so as to prevent the cause of cancer.
  • Genetic factors
    If there is a family history of lung cancer, there is a possibility that it can pass on to the offspring. Proper check up from the concerned doctor should be done when shown minor symptoms to ensure early eradication of the cancer.

Symptoms of NSCLC

As specified previously, it is very important to identify and understand the symptoms of NSCLC in order to make sure that proper treatment is acquired for the same. The symptoms of a non-small cell lung cancer are listed as follows:

  • Difficulty in breathing
    Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing is quite common for the patients with lung cancer. The cancer is most likely to block the airways which results such a symptom. It can also cause fluid to fill in and around the lungs which makes it difficult for the lungs to expand and contract.
  • Coughing of blood
    With its existence in the airways, the lung cancer causes injuries to the epithelial cells which results in bleeding. This is how the blood is thrown out when the patient coughs. At times, this bleeding becomes severe and can cause weakness and other kinds of discomfort. Acquiring immediate treatment at least for the bleeding is important.
  • Chest pain and other body aches
    Since the cancer is suppressing the organs and interrupting with the functioning of the lungs, it will most probably cause chest pain. If the cancer has hit the walls of the lungs or has spread to other body parts, it can cause severe pain. Cancer that (spreads) metastasizes is probable to cause body ache, nausea and headaches, or show any other signs and symptoms depending on the organ that has been affected. Any pain in the bones or organs other than lungs, should be informed to the doctor.
  • Pleural effusion – occurrence of fluid in the chest
    The cancer also cause pleural effusion, that is, fluid starts filling in the chest, around the lungs, which cause the lungs to suffocate. It is the pleural space, the space between the chest and the lungs which gets filled with fluid because of this carcinoma. Immediate treatment must be acquired as the fluid is quite likely to return.
  • Spreading of cancer – metastasis
    Cancer can spread from one body part to the other. This property of the cancer cells is called as metastasis. The lung cancer metastasizes or spreads to other parts of the body which generally are neighboring organs. It can spread to the bones or even brain. If the cancer metastasizes, it then becomes almost impossible to cure it. There are, however, some treatments available that can help the patient live longer.

Recent Research Findings

A research was conducted in the Tulane University through which possibilities of detecting lung cancer beforehand have come forward. This research can help in detecting the cases of NSCLC much before so that they can be treated in time. As per the research, all kind of body cells shed extracellular vesicles which are small membrane particles that carry proteins, RNA and other such molecules. The extracellular vesicles also transfer their contents by binding to certain known kinds of cells changing the behavior of the cell. When cancer cells shed these vesicles, these cause changes in the environment and surroundings of the cells that are near them and even distant. By this nature, they ensure that the metastasis is initiated which will then promote the invasion and development of the cancer cells.

Now, the protein carried by these vesicles is detectable, majorly in the cases of non-small cell lung cancer. Therefore, detection of these proteins will help in determining whether the patient has NSCLC or just cough and cold. This can be done with the help of a blood test as the protein can be detected in the blood.