Lung tumors can press on a major blood vessel, the superior vena cava, creating a medical emergency. Symptoms of this condition include swelling in the neck and face, difficulty breathing, and coughing. Bending forward or lying down may make symptoms worse.
Lung cancer that has spread to other organs can create medical emergencies, for example, by compressing the spinal cord or blocking the bowels. Symptoms of spinal cord compression include back pain and tenderness that feels worse when lying on the back and a tingling sensation in the back or legs. A spinal cord compression can cause weakness in the legs, and ultimately paralysis. It can also cause incontinence. If you experience abdominal pain and vomiting, you could be experiencing the side effects of chemotherapy, or you could have a bowel obstruction. Consult your doctor or go to the emergency room for any of these problems.
Get prompt medical attention if you have a change in cough or breathing, or if your cough produces blood.
Stop smoking and seek medical attention. Lung cancer is not something you can manage without medical care. Early diagnosis improves prognosis. You should stop smoking to decrease risk of additional cancers, to improve your general health, and to increase the effectiveness of treatment.
Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.
Radiation is often used to control symptoms produced by the lung tumor, such as pain, bleeding, and difficulty swallowing. It is also used to shrink the tumor itself. Radiation uses beams of high-energy rays. Doctors may order radiation before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery in hopes of killing any cells not visible that could have been missed. Its use is routine in patients with small cell lung cancer, as it prolongs survival. Radiation can produce skin irritation, nausea, and vomiting, a sore throat, and fatigue. Notify the doctor of any difficulties, and discuss methods of managing side effects with members of the healthcare team.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses lasers to treat very small tumors and relieve symptoms. Doctors inject a special light-sensitive chemical that is absorbed by cells throughout the entire body. However, the chemical remains in the cancer cells for a longer period of time than normal cells. A laser light then activates the special chemical to kill the cancer cells. The skin and eyes may become sensitive to light for six or more weeks following therapy, so you will be advised to avoid bright lights and sunshine, and to wear protective clothing and sunglasses.
Drug, radiation, and surgical treatments may be used in combination. You may also opt to participate in a clinical trial. Clinical trials compare the safety and effectiveness of new treatments and combinations of treatments with the current standard of care.
Surgery is almost completely restricted to those who have non-small cell lung cancer. Certain kinds of lung cancer that are small, that are found early, and are isolated to one part of the lung can be removed by having surgery.
Surgically removing the tumor offers the only real opportunity for a cure or long-term survival. This is usually only an option for early stage lung cancer.
During surgery, a small part of the lung may be cut away, a procedure called a wedge or segmental resection; an entire section (lobe) of the lung may be removed during a lobectomy; or an entire lung may be removed during a pheumonectomy. You have two sponge-like lungs, left and right, but you can live with just one.
Fewer than 30% of lung cancers can be surgically removed. While surgery offers the best hope for survival of non-small cell cancer, other medical conditions may rule out the possibility. If you have poor lung function or heart problems, you may not be a good candidate. Your risk of death during surgery or not recovering from the surgery is significantly increased, and your doctor may not want to take the chance.
Alternative medicine can be helpful in dealing with a diagnosis of cancer for some patients. Meditation, visualization and support groups help patients cope with the disease as well as the strenuous treatments.
Only 14% of patients survive for five years. By the time doctors diagnose most lung cancers, the disease has progressed to become incurable. Only 15% of lung cancers are found in the early stages. Some experts predict that early diagnosis, recognition of risk factors, screening, and timely intervention could increase survival rate. If lung cancer is caught before it spreads, the five-year survival rate increases to between 42% and 48%.
Your doctor will want to see you on a regular basis to check for recurrences. The earlier a cancer is detected, the better your prognosis. In addition to a physical exam, a chest x-ray, blood tests, and other diagnostic procedures may be ordered at set intervals. Immediately report any new or recurring symptoms to the doctor. Do not wait until your next scheduled appointment.
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