Healthy Living

What is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?

More prevalent form of lung cancer accounting for more than 7000,000 deaths annually.

What is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?

Key Takeaways

  • What makes NSCLC difficult to detect is that initial stages symptoms appear very similar to the common cold or even bronchitis
  • Smoking alone is not a prerequisite for getting NSCLC, and non-smokers can be exposed to cancer through family and environmental triggers. 

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is named as such because the cancer cells are bigger and more prominently visible compared to the smaller variety. You find them strengthening the outer lining of the trachea, and bronchi, presenting the first surface of contact with air streaming into the lungs. Depending on their cellular structure and functions we classify NSCLC broadly into two distinct varieties:

Squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma: About 20 to 30% of all lung cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.There are cancers that affect the thin, longish and flattened squamous cells that form the outermost epidermal layer lining the trachea. More than 700,000 people succumb to cancer that affects squamous cells. They are often linked to an history of smoking and tend to be found in the central part of the lungs, near a main airway (bronchus).

Adenocarcinoma: In the other prominent category, we see Adenocarcinoma cells or glandular cells that can be found all over the lung. These are the cells involved in generating mucus that moistens the trachea and eliminates waste products. This type of lung cancer occurs mainly in current or former smokers, but it is also one of the most common type of lung cancer seen in non smokers. This type is more common in women than men, and it is also more likely to occur in younger people.

Large cell carcinoma: This type of cancer accounts for about 10% to 15% of lung cancers. It can appear on any part of the lung and it grows and spreads rapidly. This makes the treatment harder as the cells have more places to grow and multiply.

Other less common types of non small cell lung cancer are : pleomorphic, carcinoid tumor, salivary gland carcinoma, and unclassified carcinoma.

You find NSCLC accounting for the majority of all cancers afflicting the lung, and within it, adenocarcinoma affects more than 45 percent of all cases. Habitual smokers find themselves succumbing to this affliction regardless of gender differences.

Smoking alone is not a prerequisite for getting NSCLC, and non-smokers can be exposed to cancer through family and environmental triggers. Cancer in the family’s immediate history can trigger cancer in siblings. Radiation and pollution are other triggers.

Function of the lungs:

The lungs are breathing organs in the chest. The lungs bring oxygen into the body when you breathe in. They release carbon dioxide, a waste product of the body’s cells, as you breathe out. Each of the two lungs have sections called lobes. The right lung has three lobes and this lung is bigger in comparison to the left one. The left lung has two lobes as it is smaller, as much of the space is occupied by the heart on the left side. Two tubes called the bronchi lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the right and left lungs. The bronchi are sometimes also involved in lung cancer. Tiny air sacs called alveoli and small tubes called bronchioles make up inside of the lungs. A thin membrane called the pleura covers the outside of each lung and lines the inside wall of the chest cavity. This creates a sac called the pleural cavity. The pleural cavity normally contains a small amount of fluid that helps the lungs move smoothly in the chest when you breathe.

NSCLC spreads in stages

Stage I: The affliction is confined entirely to the tissues of the lungs.

Stage II: Starting from the lung tissues, cancer gradually infiltrates prominent lymph nodes.

Stage III: One type is where cancer is more clearly established within the lymph nodes near to the lung where it originated. The more advanced stage is cancer spreading to the opposite lung.

Stage IV: Cancer has extensively damaged lung tissue, and has spread to surrounding spaces and the lymphatic system, and metastasizes (spreads) in other organs like the liver.

Detecting the presence of NSCLC

What makes NSCLC difficult to detect is that in initial stages the symptoms appear very similar to the common cold or even bronchitis. If symptoms persist and show little or no signs of abating, it’s time for a medical checkup.

  • A cough that doesn’t let up
  • Breathing which is slow and labored
  • Pain that appears and abates in the chest
  • Appearance of blood in the sputum
  • Weight loss for reasons other than dieting

The question of surviving NSCLC

Undoubtedly, it is extremely difficult to survive this vicious disease. Mainly, this is because the malignancy is not confined to one organ. It weakens the body’s immune defenses and gradually spreads its tentacles to other parts of the body. Studies of cancer survivors that made it beyond five years from their first diagnosis, reveal that 49 percent survived after stage I detection; 31 percent after stage II; and merely 4 percent made it once cancer advanced to stage IV.

The anatomy of NSCLC recovery

Unfortunately, modern science that is sophisticated enough to dispatch probes to mars and beyond has failed to find a cure for cancer. Treatment mainly aims to check the onslaught of the disease and to prolong the life of the individual. But the lease of life gained in the process comes at great cost in terms of pain and devastation that the disease inflicts on the patient and his near and dear ones. The options are:

  • Surgically removing the offending lung or a lobe or section of diseased lung tissue
  • Intravenous administration of drugs that weaken and kill cells that are stricken by cancer
  • Exposing the diseased tissue to controlled radiation with a view to preventing the disease spreading to other organs
  • Administering drugs that block receptors on targeted cancer cells to neutralize their harmful effects

Patients would do well to explore treatment options that extend beyond the scope of modern medicine, moving into the field of alternative therapies like acupuncture and yoga.

The lungs are a vital organ of our body. The proper diagnosis of any disease pertaining to the lungs is also very important. With proper medical guidance and support, one can understand and overcome the deadly scenarios that one can encounter if they have any disease of the lungs.