Health Talk: Lung cancer most prevalent cancer globally

Lung cancer typically does not cause symptoms and signs in its early stages, 

Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, killing more than 1,8 million in 2018 alone according to the World Health Organisation, with two  million new cases of the cancer in the same year.

What a calamity! Hungary and Serbia top the list of cancer prevalence globally.

Symptoms and signs

Lung cancer typically does not cause symptoms and signs in its early stages,  but when the disease is advanced, that is when some symptoms appear. Some of the signs and symptoms include:

  •  A new cough that does not go away
  • Coughing up blood, even a small amount
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Hoarseness
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Bone pain

Risk factors

Smoking: Your risk of lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke daily and the duration of smoking in years.

Quitting smoking at any age significantly lowers your risk of developing lung cancer.

Exposure to second-hand smoke: Even if you do not smoke, passive smoking puts you at risk of developing cancer.

Be wary about staying with chain smokers.

Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens: Workplace exposure to substances known to cause cancer such as arsenic, chromium and nickel increase your risk of developing lung cancer.

Exposure to radon gas: Radon is produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water that eventually becomes part of the air that you breathe.

Unsafe levels of radon can accumulate in any building including homes.

Family history of lung cancer: People with a parent or sibling who has had cancer have increased chances of developing the disease.

Age: Lung cancer mainly occurs in older people. Most people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older although a smaller number is diagnosed younger than 45 years.


Lung cancer can cause serious complications, which unfortunately can be confused with other common diseases. TB is one disease, which can be confused with this cancer.

Complications include:

Pleural effusion (fluid in the chest): Fluid in the chest can cause shortness of breath. Regular drainage of the fluid is necessary to smoothen breathing.

Hemoptysis (coughing out blood): Lung cancer can cause you to bleed in the lungs, which can cause you to cough out blood.

Pain: If the cancer spreads to other areas, which can include bones, it can cause severe pains.

Metastasis: Lung cancer often spreads to other parts of the body such as the brain and bones.


A number of tests can be done in order to detect the cancer.

Among them are:

n Blood check in the form of tumour markers like Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), Carcinoma Antigen (SCC), Neuron-specific enolase (NSE), Cytokeratin 19 fragment (CYFRA) and pro-gastrin releasing peptide (proGRP).

Visit your doctor, can withdraw blood and send to the laboratory before other invasive tests.

  • X-rays: Chest X-rays may show masses in the lungs. Fluid in the chest may be detected or sometimes a white-out lung
  •  CT Scan of the chest can be done to find out lesions.
  • Sputum or fluid cytology: Cancer cells can be seen by cytologists from the sputum or effusion from the chest.
  •  Lung biopsy: A sample of abnormal cells can be removed from the lung and sent for analysis. The type of cancer will be shown during pathological analysis.


Treatment of lung cancer depends on a number of factors which include your overall health, type and stage of cancer and your preferences. Therefore, treatment modalities include:

Surgery: May include cutting a small section of the lung that has cancer (wedge resection), removal of the entire lobe of the lung (lobectomy) or pneumonectomy, which is removal of the entire lung.

Lymph nodes from your chest can also be removed .

Radiation therapy: For people with locally advanced lung cancer, radiation can be used before and after surgery. Radiation can also be used to reduce pain in advanced cases.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.

Palliative therapy: Supportive therapy is done to minimise your signs and symptoms.

Let us open our eyes to lung cancer. It is real and observe its symptoms and go for early screening.

  • Dr Johannes Marisa is a medical practitioner, an educationist and a public health expert who can be reached on [email protected]


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