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Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

Mesothelioma as it Compares to NSCLC

Pleural mesothelioma is a form of lung cancer that is almost always caused by asbestos exposure and is most commonly found in the outer lining of the lungs called the mesothelium. Most patients do not receive a diagnosis of mesothelioma until after symptoms appear, which can be 30 years or more after exposure to asbestos limiting their treatment options.   The prognosis for mesothelioma patients is usually grim with no known cures, and with the average survival time varying from 4 – 18 months after diagnosis.

The prognosis for lung cancer patients, however, is good if the diagnosis is made at an early stage of the disease.  Early detection of lung cancer can also offer patients with treatment options that are cures for the cancer.  Whereas mesothelioma has only one primary cause-asbestos exposure, lung cancer can be caused by asbestos exposure as well as smoking, environmental hazards or genetics.

Overview

Non-small cell lung cancer is a disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the tissues of the lungs. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer. It usually grows and spreads more slowly than small cell lung cancer. There are three primary types of non-small cell lung cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that begins in squamous cells is also called epidermoid carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is usually found in the center of the lung by an air tube (bronchus).
  • Large cell carcinoma: Cancer that can occur in any part of the lung. Large cell carcinomas tend to grow and spread faster than the other two types.
  • Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in the cells that line the alveoli, often found in an outer area of the lung.

The kinds of cells found in each cancer and how the cells look when viewed under a microscope determine the name for the carcinoma.

Symptoms

Possible early symptoms of non-small cell lung cancer include chest pain, coughing and shortness of breath.

It is important for a specialist to examine you if any of the above problems occur, to determine if your symptoms are associated with cancer. The doctor will conduct tests and procedures to diagnose the disease that you might have.

Stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer:

  • Stage 0 – the cancer is limited to the inner lining of the lung.
  • Stage I – the cancer is small and has not yet spread to any lymph nodes.
  • Stage II – the cancer has spread to some lymph nodes near the original tumor site.
  • Stage III – the cancer has spread to nearby tissue or spread to lymph nodes far away from the tumor site.
  • Stage IV – the cancer has spread to other organs such as the other lung, brain, or liver.

Treatment

The following options are available for treatment of non-small cell lung cancer:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Laser therapy – Treatment that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) to kill cancer cells.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT) – Treatment that uses a certain type of laser light to activate a drug injected into the body to kill cancer cells.
  • Watchful waiting – The medical profession advocates in some rare cases to closely monitor a patient’s condition without giving any treatment until symptoms appear or change.

The treatment selected depends upon the stage of the cancer. A combination of treatments may be used, with research suggesting that chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy prior to surgery is often the best treatment for patients.

Chemotherapy by itself is often used when the cancer has metastasized and is in stage IV. Chemotherapy has been shown to prolong the life and improve the quality of life in some stage IV patients.

Patients may consider taking part of clinical trials at any time during the cancer treatment. Discuss the options with your medical team to determine if there is one to fit your needs.

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