Adenocarcinoma Lung Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Adenocarcinoma Lung Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Researchers identified two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which is the most common type. Adenocarcinoma (also known as adenocarcinoma lung cancer or lung adenocarcinoma) is the most common type of NSCLC. While NSCLC accounts for 85% of all lung cancer cases, 40% of diagnoses are due to adenocarcinoma, which can cause symptoms like chronic cough and shortness of breath, among others. 

Adenocarcinoma is a term for cancers that develop from cells in your glands, which are organs that release substances like mucus, hormones, and digestive juices. Lung adenocarcinoma occurs when cancer forms in glandular cells in the lungs called epithelial cells, which produce mucus. These cells are located in the outer part of the lungs. 

This cancer is also the most commonly diagnosed type of lung cancer in people with no history of smoking. While adenocarcinoma lung cancer is common, it tends to grow and spread much slower than other non-small cell lung cancers. Fortunately, this means you can get a diagnosis before cancer cells spread to other parts of the body.

Similar to most other types of cancer, lung adenocarcinoma often doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages. But when symptoms do occur, they may cause:

Unfortunately, these symptoms can mimic symptoms of other conditions, so it’s easy to misdiagnose them early on or miss them entirely. However, as cancer cells spread, you may develop even more symptoms, such as:

  • Pain or weakness in the shoulders
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Jaundice
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Facial drooping
  • Swelling of the face, arms, neck, and upper chest
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Headaches
  • Numbness in the arms and legs

Over the years, researchers have identified several genes associated with lung cancer, including the TP53, KRAS, and EGFR genes. A mutation (change) in the genes that control cell growth, division, or repair of damaged DNA can sometimes lead to the development of cancer. But, environmental factors combined with genetic influences can determine your risk of developing cancer.

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop adenocarcinoma lung cancer, but some people are at a higher risk of experiencing the condition. Consider the following risk factors:

  • Tobacco intake: 80% of all lung cancer deaths are related to smoking cigarettes, pipes, menthols, and vapes 
  • Exposure to radon gas: Radon is a radioactive gas found in soil, rocks, and water, but can enter indoor areas and build up, causing harmful effects
  • Secondhand smoke: Even if you don’t smoke, being near people or in places where smoking is occurring can increase your risk of inhaling the toxins from tobacco

However, other factors may also increase your risk of developing this condition, such as:

  • Age under 45 years old
  • Being assigned female at birth
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • HIV infection
  • Taking beta-carotene supplements
  • A family history of lung cancer
  • Drinking water that contains arsenic
  • Working with or living near chemicals like coal products, nickel chromates, and vinyl chloride
  • Using products that contain formaldehyde and chloride

If you’re experiencing symptoms of adenocarcinoma or have been feeling unwell lately, it’s important to see your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis. Your healthcare provider will first ask about your symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle habits and perform a physical exam. If they suspect cancer, they can order one or more of the following exams to confirm a diagnosis:

  • Computed tomography (CT scan): Checks for the presence of suspicious lung nodules, tumors, and other abnormalities in the lungs
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Uses magnetic fields and computer-generated radio waves to create detailed images of the lungs to check for tumors and how far cancer cells have spread
  • Positron emission tomography (PET scan): Creates three-dimensional (3D) images of the body to look for signs of disease
  • Needle thoracentesis: Collects fluid around the lung to check for the presence of cancer cells
  • Bone scan: Involves an injection of a low-level radioactive substance into your blood to determine if cancer has spread to the bones
  • Lung biopsy: Takes a sample of your lung tissue to examine it under a microscope to look for the presence of cancer cells

Stages of Lung Adenocarcinoma

If your healthcare team finds that you have lung adenocarcinoma, you may need further testing to determine the size of the tumor, whether cancer cells have spread, and how far the cancer has metastasized (spread) in the body. This helps determine what stage of cancer you are in. The stages of lung cancer are as follows:

  • Stage 0: Cancer cells have not spread past the lung’s outer lining
  • Stage I: Cancer cells are limited, localized, and have not spread to any lymph nodes
  • Stage II: Cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • Stage III: Cancer cells have spread to faraway lymph nodes or nearby tissues
  • Stage IV: Cancer cells have spread to other organs of the body, such as the liver, brain, or the other lung

Treatment for adenocarcinoma lung cancer depends on your symptoms, what stage of the disease you’re in, and your overall condition and needs. Your healthcare team will discuss your options and may recommend a combination of the following treatments:  

  • Chemotherapy to prevent cancer cells from spreading
  • Radiation therapy to kill or shrink cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy to help your immune system recognize and attack cancer cells
  • Surgery to remove the tumor (in early stages)
  • Targeted therapy to work against genetic abnormalities 

There is no foolproof way to prevent adenocarcinoma lung cancer, but adopting the following strategies may help reduce your risk of this condition:

  • Consider quitting smoking or reach out to your healthcare provider if you need support
  • Avoid exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke
  • Adopt a diet filled with more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Get your home checked for radon
  • Use personal protective equipment and increase ventilation in the room when handling formaldehyde
  • Limit exposure to other potential cancer-causing agents like asbestos and arsenic

Lung adenocarcinoma and its treatment can sometimes cause complications. But if you receive a diagnosis earlier, the risk of complications is generally lower. Some common complications that may be associated with this type of cancer include:

  • Injury to the phrenic nerve: The phrenic nerve plays a vital role in respiration (breathing), as it causes the diaphragm to contract and expand. Damage to this nerve may occur during a lung cancer surgery, causing paralysis of the diaphragm.
  • Infections: Lung cancer treatments like chemotherapy can weaken the immune system, increasing the risk of infections.
  • Respiratory failure: Lung cancer tumors can sometimes put pressure on the lungs, cause inflammation, or block the airways, which can all impair the function of your respiratory system.

Learning you have adenocarcinoma lung cancer can spur on different emotions, which can be challenging to deal with. There is no right or wrong way to process this diagnosis, and it’s normal to feel however you feel. But, there are some things you can do to live well with your condition. Consider the following strategies:

  • Take charge of your healthcare by working with your healthcare team, speaking up, asking questions, and researching more about your conditions
  • Communicate your feelings and experiences with your loved ones
  • Find ways to express your thoughts, such as writing in a journal or joining a support group
  • Make any lifestyle changes your healthcare provider recommends to help manage your condition
  • Learn stress management techniques (such as yoga or meditation)
  • Be open to discussing anything on your mind, including difficult topics like end-of-life decisions
  • Remind yourself to seek out and accept care from your healthcare team and loved ones

It may be helpful to know that healthcare providers are getting better at diagnosing and treating these conditions, and more clinical trials are being carried out to discover devices, drugs, and therapies that may work better for treating different cancers. Non-small cell lung cancer is treatable, so following your treatment plan can help improve symptoms and your overall quality of life.

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