Lung cancer is one of common cancers. Even in some countries, it is the most common cause of death due to cancer. In fact, it is often first diagnosed at advanced (late stages). Does this mean that it is a fast growing cancer?
Cancer that started in the lung (not coming from elsewhere in the body) is called primary lung cancer. It can start from cells lining the bronchi or other parts of the lungs (like alveoli or bronchioles).
Experts say that there may be pre-cancerous phase before it turns into cancer. The first changes in particular DNA may cause cells in the lung grow more quickly (faster than normal). These cells usually look a bit abnormal, but they still don’t cause a mass or form a tumor. Furthermore, they don’t show up on x-rays or other imaging tests. They usually don’t cause any symptom, too.
Over time, these cells may obtain other changes of DNA. As a result, this may turn these cells to become true cancer.
As cancerous tumor grows, cells of cancer may release chemicals that make new blood vessels to form nearby. This is intended to supply nutrients to cancer cells through these blood vessels, so thus the cancer can continue to develop. Eventually it will be large enough to show up on x-rays or another imaging test.
The cancer may also release hormone-like substances into the bloodstream. This can affect other parts or organs of the body, even though the cancer cells have not spread to these areas, causing unusual symptoms called paraneoplastic syndromes! See more about this issue and how lung cancer affects the body in this post!
At some point, the cancer cells may break away from the primary site (the place where they have started to grow for the first time) and spread to other parts or even distinct organs of the body. This phase is called metastatic stage.
Lung cancer spreads through bloodstream and lymphatic system. In addition, lymphatic system consists of several parts, these include:
- Lymph, it is a clear fluid containing waste products and excess fluid from the tissues of the body, as well as cells of the body immune system.
- Lymphatic vessels. These are similar to blood vessels (especially small veins), but they don’t carry blood. They carry lymph away from the lungs.
- Lymph nodes. They are bean-shaped, small collections of immune system cells – connected by lymphatic vessels.
Once cells of cancer in the lung have reached the nearby lymph nodes, this can be starting point where they tend to affect other parts of the body. The common nearby lymph nodes affected by these cells are those around the bronchi and the area between two lungs (mediastinum).
Lung cancer has several types. In general, it is divided into two main groups; small cell type and non-small cell type. It’s important to get to know the type of lung cancer since this can significantly affect the treatment plan.
Many times, the disease doesn’t lead to early signs and symptoms. The symptoms often occur when the disease at advanced. This also can be one of the reasons why it is often diagnosed at late stages.
In fact, it is a life-threatening disease because many times it has spread when first diagnosed, even before the cancer can be detected on imaging tests such as x-rays. Does this mean that it is fast growing cancer?
The answer may vary. In general, this is dependent on the kind of lung cancer you have. While some types of lung cancer can grow quickly, other types are likely to grow slowly (see more in here)!
For instances, small cell lung cancer is likely to grow quickly. The metastasis of this type is quite early. Therefore the use of surgery is quite rare for small cell type.
In addition, when there are too many cancer cells that have spread, surgery can be ineffective treatment. Advanced stages of cancer are usually treated with treatments that can widely target the cancer cells such as with radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Non-small cancer type is the most common form of lung cancer. It has several sub-types, which some have metastasis that can be quite quickly, and others are likely to grow slowly.