World lung cancer day 2023: A persistent cough can be due to lung cancer; know the other early signs of one of the most common forms of cancer in the country​

In order to create awareness around one of the most common forms of cancer that develops in the lungs, World Lung Cancer Day is observed on August 1 every year. One of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide, lung cancer is a serious public health concern. The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has marked November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Almost 1.8 million people died from lung cancer in 2020, almost double the number of cancer deaths caused by the second most common cause of cancer death, colorectal cancer, says the IARC.

Late diagnosis and misdiagnosis hinder lung cancer treatment in many cases​

Health experts urge people to not ignore the early signs of the disease. Late diagnosis and wrong diagnosis are a few of the major obstacles that hinder the treatment of lung cancer patients. “Lung cancer is often diagnosed at advanced stages when treatment options are limited,” says the WHO. “Screening high-risk individuals has the potential to allow early detection and to dramatically improve survival rates. Primary prevention (such as tobacco control measures and reducing exposure to environmental risk factors) can reduce the incidence of lung cancer and save lives,” it adds.

​What are the early signs of lung cancer?​

“Early detection and timely treatment can significantly impact the outcome and improve the chances of successful management of lung cancer,” says Dr. Tejinder Singh, Consultant Medical Oncology, Apollo Hospitals Navi Mumbai. The expert lists the following as the early signs of lung cancer.

A persistent cough or a chronic cough that lasts for several weeks or worsens over time is a common early symptom of lung cancer. It may be dry or produce mucus.

Shortness of breath or unexplained breathlessness or difficulty breathing, especially during physical activities, could be a potential indicator.

Lung cancer may cause chest pain that is constant, worsens with deep breathing or coughing, or is present during coughing or laughing.

If an individual experiences unintentional weight loss without changes in diet or physical activity, it may be a concerning sign.

Persistent fatigue or weakness, not alleviated by rest, can be an early symptom of lung cancer.

A hoarse or raspy voice that persists without any apparent cause might be related to lung cancer.

Coughing up blood, also known as hemoptysis, is a potentially severe symptom that requires immediate medical attention.

Recurrent or persistent infections in the chest, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, might be indicative of an underlying issue, including lung cancer.

What causes lung cancer?​

“Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Tobacco smoke contains numerous carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) that damage the cells lining the lungs. Smokers are at a much higher risk of developing lung cancer compared to non-smokers. Additionally, exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase the risk, albeit to a lesser extent,” says Dr Singh. He also mentions prolonged exposure to radon which is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep into buildings, particularly homes, from the ground. increases the risk of lung cancer, especially in smokers.

Dr Singh mentions about certain occupations, such as construction, mining, and manufacturing, that may expose individuals to harmful substances like asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and diesel exhaust. Prolonged exposure to these substances can elevate the risk of lung cancer, he says.

Air pollution, a subject of national concern, is also a contributing factor for lung cancer says Dr Singh. “Long-term exposure to air pollution, including particulate matter, chemicals, and industrial emissions, can contribute to the development of lung cancer, especially in urban areas with high pollution levels,” he adds.

Apart from this, genetic factors, exposure to radiation, and having a family history of lung cancer also increases one’s risk of developing lung cancer.

Who are the high-risk people?​

Current and former smokers are at high risk of developing lung cancer, says Dr Singh. “People who have smoked a large number of cigarettes per day for an extended period are considered high-risk due to the cumulative exposure to harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke. Non-smokers who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke in their environment, such as living with a smoker or spending time in smoky environments, are also at an increased risk,” he warns.

Those with chronic lung diseases like COPD, or with a family history of lung cancer, who have received radiation treatment to the chest area, with certain inherited genetic mutations are prone to developing lung cancer earlier than others.

The takeaway​

“If you identify with any of these high-risk categories or have concerns about your lung cancer risk, it’s crucial to discuss your individual situation with your doctor. They can provide personalized advice, recommend screenings if necessary, and help you make informed decisions about your health. Avoiding tobacco use and exposure to harmful substances, as well as minimizing exposure to environmental pollutants, are essential preventive measures. Early detection through regular screenings can also improve the prognosis by enabling timely intervention and treatment. Early detection and lifestyle changes can significantly improve outcomes for individuals at high risk of developing lung cancer,” urges Dr Singh.

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