There is recent sad news making a buzz in the country about NTV’s N-Soko Property Show host Janet Kanini Ikua which got most people in tears including myself. The vibrant woman is said to be battling stage 4 Lung Cancer, just 5 months following a long fight with a leg clot, Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). How can this be, were the first words most of us could cough out. Since she broke the news on social media while in India for treatment, her fellow celebrities have come out en mass to show huge support with the hashtag #IStandWithJanet# and ‘Get Well Soon’ messages have been flooding her Facebook page as well as financial donations. The illness notwithstanding, the brazen woman remains in a spirit of optimism, and her attitude this period keeps lifting everyone’s spirit. Anyway we all need to be informed about this cancer so we bring everything you need to know about the disease.
What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is a type of cancer (uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells) that occurs in the lungs. Human’s lungs are made up of two spongy organs in the chest that take in oxygen when you inhale and release carbon dioxide when you exhale. Lung cancer usually starts in the cells that line the air passages. The abnormal cells do not grow into healthy lung tissues, they rather divide very quickly and form tumors. And every year, this disease claims more lives than other types of cancer including colon cancer, prostate, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer and cervical cancer put together.
How Does It Start?
Cancer is absolutely the result of cells that uncontrollably grow and do not die. Normally, human beings have cells in the body which follow an orderly path of growth, division, and death. But when this procedure breaks down, cancer begins to form and continues to grow and divide quite unlike normal cell death, this is known as apoptosis.
Who Is at the Greatest Risk of Contracting this Disease?
Most lung cancers are caused by inhaling carcinogenic substances. So smokers have the greatest risk of contracting lung cancer. However, the disease can also occur in people who have never smoked in their lives and in those who have never had prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke. In such situations, lung cancer may not be linked to any satisfactory cause.
Types of Lung Cancer
There are two types of lung cancer divided based on the appearance of lung cancer cells under the microscope, according to specialists. Treatment decisions are made primarily on the major type of lung cancer one is diagnosed with. The two general types of lung cancer include:
1. Small Cell Lung Cancer: Small cell lung cancer occurs nearly in only chain smokers and is less common than non-small cell lung cancer.
2. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: Non-small-cell lung cancer is a term for different types of lung cancers that act in like ways. Non-small cell lung cancers include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma.
Stages of Lung Cancer
The stage of lung cancer entails the extent to which the cancer has spread in the body. For non-small cell lung cancer, stages are broken down to a simpler categorization of stages. These stages are labeled from I to IV, where lower numbers indicate earlier stages where the cancer has spread less as listed below:
- Stage I is the time when the tumor can only be seen i.e when the cancer is limited to just one lung and hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes.
- Stage II is when the tumor may have grown bigger than 2 inches and cancer has spread to the lymph nodes around the infected lung.
- Stage III is when the cancer has spread to lymph nodes around the trachea, chest wall, and diaphragm, on the same side as the infected lung.
- Stage IIIb is when the cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the other lung or in the neck.
- Stage IV is when the cancer has spread throughout the rest of the body and other parts of the lungs.
But for small cell lung cancer, there are only two stages: limited or extensive. In the limited stage, the tumor exists in one lung and in nearby lymph nodes while in the extensive stage, the tumor has infected the other lung as well as other organs in the body.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
It is important to note that lung cancer hardly causes signs and symptoms in its earliest stages, but signs and symptoms occurs at the advanced stages of the disease.
More specifically, the signs and symptoms of the disease may include:
1. A new cough that is persistent and extreme
2. Changes in a chronic cough or “smoker’s cough”
3. Coughing up blood, even a small amount
4. Shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing
5. Chest pain
7. Hoarseness of the voice
8. Losing weight without trying
9. Bone pain
10. Harsh Sounds while breathing
Be sure to see a doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.
The disease can lead to complications like:
1. Shortness of Breath: When cancer grows to block the main channels through which air passes, a person with lung cancer can experience shortness of breath. Also, the disease can make fluid to amass near the lungs, making it more difficult for the affected lung to expand fully during inhalation and exhilaration.
2. Coughing up Blood: Lung cancer causes bleeding in the airways, and as a result can make people with it to cough up blood (hemoptysis) which is sometimes severe. But there are treatments available to control such bleeding.
3. Pain: Fully developed lung cancer that spreads to the lining of a lung or to other areas of the body, such as the bone, can cause pain. The pain may not be severe and sporadic at first, but can become regular.
4. Fluid in the Chest (Pleural Effusion): Lung cancer can make fluid to rack up in the space around the affected lung in the chest cavity. Fluid racking up in the chest leads to shortness of breath. The fluid can be drained from the patient’s chest through available treatments and the risk that pleural effusion will occur again can also be reduced through the same treatments.
5. Cancer Spread (Metastasis): Lung cancer most times open out (metastasizes) to other parts of the body, such as the brain and the bones. Once lung cancer has spread to other organs, it’s generally not curable. Treatments are rather available to reduce signs and symptoms and to prolong life.
How to Cope With Shortness of Breath
Many people with lung cancer experience shortness of breath at some point in the course of the disease. Treatments such as supplemental oxygen, and medications are available to help you feel more comfortable, but they aren’t always enough. To cope with shortness of breath, consider doing the following:
1. Try to Have Some Rest: Shortness of breath can be frightful. However, being afraid and anxious can worsen the situation. A patient who is feeling short of breath needs to learn how to manage fear by opting for an activity that helps you relax such as listening to music, picturing your favorite vacation spot, or even saying a prayer.
2. Lie in Your most Comfortable Position: When you feel short of breath, leaning forward may help a great deal
3. Concentrate on Your breath: When you feel short of breath, focus your mind on your breathing. Rather than trying to fill your lungs with air, focus on moving the muscles that control your diaphragm. Try breathing through pursed lips and pacing your breaths with your activity.
4. Reduce the Unimportant Tasks In Order to Save Energy: Shortness of breath often makes a patient easily tired. Therefore there is need to leave out the unimportant tasks from your day so that you can save your energy for essential things that need to be done.
How To Cope With Diagnosis:
Any cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, annoying and devastating, but as time goes on you will learn to cope with the distress and uncertainty of cancer. Doing the following can also be helpful:
1. Try Acquiring Sufficient Knowledge About Lung Cancer to Make Decisions About Your Care: Query your doctor concerning your lung cancer, including your treatment options and, if you like, your prognosis. By the time you learn more about lung cancer, you may become more confident in making treatment decisions.
2. Keep Friends and Family Close: Sticking around your family and friends will give you enough support and make your relationships stronger. Of course being around them constantly will help you deal with your cancer. They can help take care of your house, and offer all the emotional support you might need.
3. Look For a Confidant and Share Your Views: Look for someone (friend or family member) who listens well and who is ready to listen to you. Then share your hopes and fears. You may also find help from the concern and understanding of a counselor, medical social worker, clergy member or a cancer support group.
Also question your doctor about cancer support groups in your area. Or check your phone book, library or a cancer organizations in your country. In Kenya, you can look up any of these cancer support groups; The Faraja Cancer Support Trust, Hope Beyond Cancer Trust, Africa Cancer Foundation, Cancer Awareness Center of Kenya, Eddah’s Hope Cancer Foundation, Kenya Cancer Association, Jonathan of the Kenya Cancer Association and more.
Questions To Ask When You’ve Been Diagnosed With Lung Cancer
Prioritize your questions from most essential to least essential in case there is no enough time to take all questions. For lung cancer, the following are some basic questions to ask:
- What type of lung cancer do I have?
- May I see the chest X-ray or CT scan that shows my cancer?
- What is causing my symptoms?
- What is the stage of my lung cancer?
- Will I need more tests?
- Should my lung cancer cells be tested for gene mutations that may determine my treatment options?
- Has my cancer spread to other parts of my body?
- What are my treatment options?
- Will any of these treatment options cure my cancer?
- What are the potential side effects of each treatment?
- Is there one treatment that you think is best for me?
- Is there a benefit if I quit smoking now?
- What advice would you give a friend or family member in my situation?
- What if I don’t want treatment?
- Are there ways to relieve the signs and symptoms I’m experiencing?
- Can I enroll in a clinical trial?
- Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
- Are there brochures or other material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?