Lung cancer is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease that affects the lungs and occurs when abnormal cells in the lungs grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor. It is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide and accounts for a significant number of cancer-related deaths, including those related to lung cancer in seniors.
Understanding Lung Cancer in Seniors
Lung cancer begins in the lungs and may spread to lymph nodes or other organs in the body, such as the brain. Cancer from other organs also may spread to the lungs. When cancer cells spread from one organ to another, it is called metastasis.There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC), each with its distinct characteristics and treatment approaches.
Common Causes of Lung Cancer
The primary cause of lung cancer is tobacco smoke, including both active smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. The combustion of tobacco releases numerous toxic substances, including carcinogens, which damage lung tissue and lead to the development of cancer cells.Other risk factors include exposure to environmental pollutants such as radon gas, asbestos fibers, industrial chemicals, and air pollution. Additionally, genetic factors and a family history of lung cancer may contribute to the risk of developing the disease.
Lung Cancer Signs in Seniors
The symptoms of lung cancer may vary depending on the stage and type of cancer. Some have symptoms related to the lungs. Some people whose lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized) have symptoms specific to that part of the body. Some individuals just have general symptoms of not feeling well. Most with lung cancer don’t have symptoms until the cancer is advanced. Common lung cancer signs in seniors include:
Persistent coughing, often accompanied by blood or rust-colored sputum.
Shortness of breath or wheezing.
Chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, laughing, or coughing.
Fatigue and unexplained weight loss.
Hoarseness and recurrent lung infections.
Bone pain, headaches, or neurological symptoms (when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body).
It is essential to seek medical attention if any of these symptoms persist or if there is a high risk of lung cancer due to smoking or other factors.
How Can Lung Cancer be Diagnosed?
Early detection of lung cancer allows patients to have more treatment options and offers a far greater chance of survival.The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan or LDCT). During the scan, you lie on a table and an X-ray machine uses a low dose (amount) of radiation to make detailed images of your lungs.The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends yearly lung cancer screening with LDCT for those who have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history, smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and are between the ages of 50 and 80.
An X-ray image of the lungs may reveal an abnormal mass or nodule. A CT scan can reveal small lesions in the lungs that might not be detected on an X-ray.
If you have a cough and are producing sputum, looking at the sputum under the microscope can sometimes reveal the presence of lung cancer cells.
Tissue Sample (Biopsy)
A sample of abnormal cells may be removed in a procedure called a biopsy.
Treatment for Lung Cancer in Seniors
The treatment of lung cancer depends on various factors, including the type and stage of cancer, overall health, and personal preferences. Common treatment options include the following.
Surgical removal of the tumor, surrounding tissues, or entire lung may be recommended for early-stage lung cancer.
High-energy beams are used to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. It can be done externally (external beam radiation) or internally (brachytherapy) by placing radioactive materials close to the tumor.
The use of drugs to kill cancer cells or inhibit their growth is often used in combination with other treatment modalities.
This treatment option targets specific genetic mutations in cancer cells to block their growth and division. It is primarily used for patients with advanced-stage lung cancer. Immunotherapy also helps the immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells. It is effective for certain types of lung cancer and may be used alone or in combination with other treatments.
Treatment for Lung Cancer for Seniors at Greater Good Health