Non Small Cell Lung Cancer

Squamous cell carcinoma

Non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for 80% of all lung cancers and in nine out of ten cases is caused by smoking.

Unfortunately NSCLC is a silent killer and develops over many years. A person may have had the disease for about 30 years before the first symptoms rear their very ugly head. By then it’s usually too late to do anything about it.

The disease forms in the tissues of the lungs affecting the windpipe and air passages. It’s only when a person gets a persistent cough, shortness of breath and chest pain that there is any indication that something may be wrong.

Non Small Cell Lung Cancer is sub-divided into three further types:

1. Adenocarcinoma

This is the most common NSCLC accounting for about 40% of lung cancers. It usually develops in the outer part of the lung and is more common in women smokers. It affects cells with glandular properties and tends to spread to the adrenal glands, brain, liver and the opposite lung. Because it develops in the outskirts of the lung, adenocarcinoma is symptom less for many years.

2. Squamous cell carcinoma

This accounts for about 30% of all lung cancers. Again it’s linked to a history of smoking (it’s very unusual in non smokers) and affects mainly men. As its name suggests, the cancer affects the squamous cells which are thin flat cells which when infected tend to resemble pearl like nodules. They are more common in the central airways and can grow large enough to block the airway and cause lung collapse. Because the cancer is near the airway it can cause early symptoms such as a cough and the production of phlegm.

3. Large cell carcinoma

This accounts for about 15% of lung cancers and can appear anywhere in the lung. This type of cancer can multiply and spread very quickly to other parts of the body. Again it is more common in smokers.

NSCLC is usually “staged” or graded according to its severity.

In Stage I the cancer is found in only one part of the lung. With very small tumors there’s a possibility that surgery can provide a cure. And if this is the case around 70% of people survive five years. By Stage II the cancer has either spread to the chest wall or nearby lymph nodes and by Stage III Non Small Cell Lung Cancer has spread extensively throughout the chest and usually into the major lymph nodes.

In Stage IV the cancer has used the major lymph nodes to travel to other parts of the body such as the liver, bowel or bones where it becomes a secondary cancer.

For Stages II, III and IV the prognosis isn’t brilliant. The treatment is based on prolonging and improving the quality of life of the patient rather than curing them. The sobering statistic is that if the cancer is extensive, the patient is only likely to survive about nine months after diagnosis.


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