Large cell carcinoma, is a kind of lung cancer, is classified as Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and prevails in 80-85% of people who have lung cancer. This is compared to small cell lung cancer, which affects 10-15% of people.
In large cell carcinoma, there will be an abnormal growth in the size of cells, present in the lungs, which usually multiples in a way that spirals out of control. This multiplication of cells in turn leads to tumors, which spread to different areas of the body like the kidney or liver.
NSCLCs are usually found lining the passageways (bronchi) that admit air into both the lungs. CAT scans and PET scans generally reveal the status of the cancerous cells.
Subcategories of NSCLC
NSCLCs can be differentiated into different sub categories depending on which lung cell they begin in. 40% of these cancers, known as Adencacinomas, begin where the cell secretes mucus, which spreads more in women than in men and occurs at a young age. It is common in both smokers and non-smokers. Next is the squamous cell carcinoma, which affects 25 to 30% of population, especially those who smoke. They commonly affect the central part of lungs where the airway inlet or bronchus lies. Next is the undifferentiated or large cell carcinoma, which is the hardest to treat. It grows rapidly and affects 10 to 15% of people with lung cancer.
The NSCLCs mimic the symptoms of the common cold and flu to an astonishing degree, like fatigue, shoulder pain, back pain, difficulty in taking short breaths etc. These are often overlooked. This is the main reason why cancer remains under wraps till its discovery in advanced stages.
The following symptoms, if chronic and repetitive in nature, require deeper probing:
- Consistent coughing accompanied by wheezing and possibly a rattling noise
- Traces of blood while coughing
- Difficulty in breathing resulting from excessive fluid accumulation in alveolar sacs
- Chest pain due to regular coughing
- Pneumonia that revisits the same site repetitively
- Excessive weariness even without physical exertion
- Losing weight consistently without proper cause
- Enlargement of breasts in men, called gynecomastia, due to a hormone secretion
Upon conducting a chest X-ray, cancerous tumors show up as whitish or greyish agglomerations of fluid and gas-filled cavities. The CT scan allows the doctor to confirm the location, and judge the size and prominence of the tumor and its stage of growth. In PET scans, sugar-based dyes are injected to pinpoint cancerous cells. The sugared dye shows up in large cell carcinoma tissue because of their insatiable appetite for sugar to fuel growth. A sample of this tissue is tested further, to understand how much of the cancer has spread to the body.
Examining the sputum thrown up by coughing is yet another method of detecting cancer growing in the central thoracic region. To access cells nearer the outer region of the lungs, a needle is inserted via a throracoscope to draw fluid for cytological tests. This is called a lung biopsy. Mediastinoscopy is another procedure to examine lymph nodes for cancer, and to remove the nodes if necessary to halt cancer from spreading.
Stages by Which Large Cell Carcinoma Spreads
There are four main observable stages to determine how much the cancer has spread. First, the cancer spreads only inside the lungs. Second, it spreads to lymph nodes, a small part of the bronchus, which forms a lining around the lungs. Thirdly, it spreads to tissues near the lung and lastly, it will spread to various body parts.
Treatment of Large Cell Carcinoma
When the cancer is still in its initial stages and has not spread from the lung area, then surgery might offer the best cure. Of course, it is also important for the patient to be physically fit for surgery and be free from any other diseases which can lower their immunity and increase the risks during surgery. Surgery where necessary may involve removal of a wedge-like section, a lobe or complete lung. Minute doses of radiation and chemotherapy may be needed post-surgery, to check the advancement of cancer and prevent its resurgence.
If large cell carcinoma can be prevented, medications, targeted therapies, or medicines which target proteins or tumors building up in the cancer cells are prescribed. It has fewer side effects than traditional treatment methods. Immunotherapy is the latest development in treatment of lung cancer, which is said to have good, long-term control on cancerous cells.
Prevention of Large Cell Carcinoma
Possibly the most important step any person can take to halt the onward march of cancer is to cut out smoking altogether. Look out for signs and symptoms like coughing and recurring pneumonia that could help you detect the disease early on. If cancer is in its infancy, it becomes possible to opt for surgical removal to be rid of the problem forever. But if the cancer has spread to other parts, one's life expectancy usually does not exceed 5 years, that too in rare cases. Lifestyle changes can be adopted to prevent recurrence. An annual checkup with a CT scan should be all that a person needs to rule out cancer, and boost their survival rate.
Therefore, learn as much as you can about lung cancer and do not ignore early signs like continuous coughing or breathlessness. Though it might be a difficult phase, love and support from friends and relatives can give you strength and reduce anxiety.
The Bottom Line
Large cell carcinoma in its final stages claims its victim with unerring accuracy, but the disease, if detected early, can be surgically operated to boost one's survival rate. A ray of hope is that in the past five years, new drug discoveries have been made, boosting the efficacy of chemotherapy through more potent formulations. Targeted therapies administering drugs that block receptors in cancer cells also offer hope for a longer life.