Lung Cancer in the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative
Medicine by Jennifer Wurges
Lung cancer is a disease in which the cells of the lung
tissues grow uncontrollably and form tumors. It is the leading cause of death from cancer among both men and women in the
United States. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated that in 1998, at least 172,000 new
cases of lung cancer were diagnosed, and that lung cancer accounted for 28% of all cancer deaths, or approximately 160,000
people. In 2002, the ACS reported that more than 150,000 Americans die from the disease every year. Only 15 percent of people
with lung cancer will live five years.
Types of lung cancer
There are two kinds of lung cancers, primary and secondary.
Primary lung cancer (also called adenocarcinoma) starts in the lung itself. Primary lung cancer is divided into small cell
lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, depending on how the cells look under the microscope. Secondary lung cancer is
cancer that starts somewhere else in the body (for example, the breast or colon) and spreads to the lungs.
Small cell cancer was formerly called oat cell cancer, because
the cells resemble oats in their shape. About one-fourth of all lung cancers are small cell cancers. This type is a very aggressive
cancer and spreads to other organs within a short time. It generally is found in people who are heavy smokers. Non-small cell
cancers account for the remaining 75% of lung cancers. They can be further subdivided into three categories.
Incidence of lung cancer
Lung cancer is rare among young adults. It usually is found
in people who are 50 years of age or older, with an average age at diagnosis of 60. While the incidence of the disease is
decreasing among Caucasian men, it is steadily rising among African-American men, and among both Caucasian and African-American
women. This change probably is due to the increase in the number of smokers in these groups. In 1987, lung cancer replaced
breast cancer as the number one cancer killer among women.
Causes & symptoms
smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Ninety percent of lung cancers can be prevented by completely giving up
tobacco. Smoking marijuana cigarettes is considered yet another risk factor for cancer of the lung. These cigarettes
have a higher tar content than tobacco cigarettes. In addition, they are inhaled very deeply; as a result, the smoke is held
in the lungs for a longer period of time.
EXPOSURE TO ASBESTOS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS. Repeated exposure to asbestos fibers, either
at home or in the workplace, also is considered a risk factor for lung cancer. Studies show that compared to the general population,
asbestos workers are seven times more likely to die from lung cancer. Asbestos workers who smoke increase their risk of developing
lung cancer by 50-100 times. Besides asbestos, mining industry workers who are exposed to coal products or radioactive substances,
such as uranium, and workers exposed to chemicals, such as arsenic, vinyl chloride, mustard gas , and other carcinogens,
also have a higher than average risk of contracting lung cancer.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINATION. High levels of a radioactive gas (radon)
that cannot be seen or smelled pose a risk for lung cancer. This gas is produced by the breakdown of uranium, and does not
present any problem outdoors. In the basements of some houses that are built over soil containing natural uranium deposits,
however, radon may accumulate and reach dangerous levels. Having one's house inspected for the presence of radon gas when
buying or renting is a good idea. Other forms of environmental pollution (e.g., auto exhaust fumes) also may slightly increase
the risk of lung cancer.
An x-ray image showing an oval-shaped carcinoma in the left
lung. (Custom Medical Stock Photo. Reproduced by permission.)
In 2002, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association
(JAMA) linked for the first time long-term exposure to fine-particle air pollution to lung cancer deaths. The risk of death
from lung cancer increased substantially for people living in the most heavily polluted metropolitan areas. Tiny particles
from the air pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants, factories and diesel vehicles are to blame.
CHRONIC LUNG INFLAMMATION AND SCARRING . Inflammation and scar tissue sometimes
are produced in the lung by diseases, such as silicosis and berylliosis, which are caused by inhalation of certain minerals,
tuberculosis , and certain types of pneumonia . This scarring may increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
FAMILY HISTORY. Although the exact cause of lung cancer is not known, people
with a family history of lung cancer appear to have a slightly higher risk of contracting the disease. In 2003, researchers
were continuing work aimed at learning why some smokers were more susceptible to lung cancer than others. They discovered
a type of DNA repair characteristic apparent in smokers who were less likely to get lung cancer. Continued work along these
lines could lead to possible screening for DNA that makes some people at higher risk for lung cancer.
Lung cancers tend to spread very early, and only 15% are detected
in their early stages. The chances of early detection, however, can be improved by seeking medical care at once if any of
the following symptoms appear:
a cough that does
not go away
shortness of breath
swelling of the neck and
significant weight loss that
is not due to dieting or vigorous exercise
fatigue and loss
bloody or brown-colored spit
or phlegm (sputum)
recurrent lung infections
, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
However, these symptoms may be caused by diseases other than
lung cancer. It is vital, however, to consult a doctor to rule out the possibility that they are the first symptoms of lung
If the lung cancer has spread to other organs, the patient
may have other symptoms, such as headaches, bone fractures, pain, bleeding, or blood clots . Early detection and treatment
can increase the chances of a cure for some patients. For others, it can at least prolong life.
Physical examination and initial tests
If the patient's doctor suspects lung cancer, he or she will
take a detailed medical history to check all the symptoms and assess the risk factors. The assessment of the patient's medical
history will be followed by a complete physical examination. The doctor will examine the patient's throat to rule out other
possible causes of hoarseness or coughing, and listen to the patient's breathing and the sounds made when the patient's chest
and upper back are tapped (percussed). The physical examination, however, is not conclusive.
If the doctor has reason to suspect lung cancer—particularly
if the patient has a history of heavy smoking or occupational exposure to substances that are known to irritate the lungs—he
or she may order a chest x ray to see if there are any masses in the lungs. Special imaging techniques, such as CT scans or
MRIs, may provide more precise information about the possibility, size, shape, and location of any tumors.
A technology called spiral CT, which rotates allowing for images
of the chest from all angles, can detect lung cancer when tumors are smaller than a dime. A report in 2002 said spiral CT
technology could help doctors screen the population for lung cancer, but the idea of screening remains controversial. Until
clinicians and insurers receive more proof the scans produce fewer false positive (a seemingly positive result or nodule that
turns out not to be a cancerous mass), widespread screening won't occur. And in 2002, the cost of a spiral CT chest study
to screen for lung cancer averaged about $400. However, researchers were recommending further trials to determine the effectiveness
of the screening tool for future use.
In 2003, a new radiology technique emerged for staging lung
cancer. By combining positron emission tomography (PET) with CT, or PET-CT, physicians could more accurately see the details
of the tumorís progression (or regression after treatment) and to diagnose a lung tumor better.
Sputum analysis involves microscopic examination of the cells
that are either coughed up from the lungs, or are collected through a special instrument called a bronchoscope. Sputum analyses
can diagnose at least 30% of lung cancers, some of which do not show up even on chest x rays. In addition, the test can help
detect cancer in its very early stages, before it spreads to other regions. The sputum test does not, however, provide any
information about the location of the tumor and must be followed by other tests, such as bronchoscopy, where machines can
detect cancerous cells without the need to open the chest.
Lung biopsy is the most definitive diagnostic tool for cancer.
It can be performed in several different ways. The doctor can perform a bronchoscopy, which involves the insertion of a slender,
lighted tube, called a bronchoscope, down the patient's throat and into the lungs. In addition to viewing the passageways
of the lungs, the doctor can use the bronchoscope to obtain samples of the lung tissue. In another procedure known as a needle
biopsy, the location of the tumor first is identified using a CT scan or MRI. The doctor then inserts a needle through the
chest wall and collects a sample of tissue from the tumor. In the third procedure, known as surgical biopsy, the chest wall
is opened up and a part of the tumor, or all of it, is removed. A doctor who specializes in the study of diseased tissue (a
pathologist) examines the tumor samples to identify the cancer's type and stage.
Alternative therapies should complement conventional treatment,
not replace it. Before participating in any alternative treatment programs, patients should consult their doctors concerning
the appropriateness and the role of such programs in overall cancer treatment plans. Appropriate alternative treatments can
help prolong a patient's life or at least improve quality of life, prevent recurrence of tumors, or prolong the remission
period and reduce adverse reactions to chemotherapy and radiation.
The use of beta-carotene and vitamin A supplements in
lung cancer patients is controversial. Vitamin A and beta-carotene were advocated as antioxidants with lung-protective
effects that may decrease the risk of lung cancer. However, recent studies suggest that betacarotene supplements may have
no demonstrated effect in smokers and no effects on nonsmokers. Therefore, use of beta-carotene supplement in lung cancer
patients or as preventive measure in smokers is not recommended at the present time. However, researchers believe that patients
benefit from nature's source of beta-carotene and vitamin A. Beta-carotene in food carries all the benefits, yet does not
have the harmful effects controversial high-dose supplements may carry.
The effectiveness of many of the anticancer drugs used to treat
lung cancer can be reduced when patients take megadoses of antioxidants. These antioxidants in patients not undergoing chemotherapy
can be helpful in protecting the body against cancer. However, taken during chemotherapy, these antioxidants protect the cancer
cells from being killed by chemotherapy drugs. Because high-dose supplementation of antioxidants can interfere with conventional
chemotherapy treatment, patients should check with their physicians concerning dosage and recommended daily allowance (RDA)
during chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
The following dietary changes may help improve a patient's
quality of life, as well as boost the immune function to better fight the disease. They also may help prevent lung cancer.
Avoiding fatty and spicy
foods. A high-fat diet may be associated with increased risk of lung cancer. Also, lung cancer patients may have a hard time
digesting heavy foods.
Eating new and exciting foods.
Tasty foods stimulate appetite so that patients can eat more and have the energy to fight cancer.
Increasing consumption of
fresh fruits and vegetables. They are nature's best sources of antioxidants, as well as vitamins and minerals. Especially
helpful are the yellow and orange fruits (orange, cantaloupes) and dark green vegetables. They contain high amounts of vitamin
A and carotene.
Eating more broccoli sprouts.
These young sprouts are a good source of sulforaphane, a lung cancer fighting substance.
Eating multiple (5-6) meals
per day. Small meals are easier to digest.
Establishing a regular eating
time and not eating around bedtime.
Avoiding foods containing
preservatives or artificial coloring.
Monitoring weight and intake
of adequate calories and protein.
In 2002, a report in Family Practice News said that daily consumption
of a soup used in Traditional Chinese Medicine helped slow the progression of non-small cell lung cancer for patients
with advanced stages of the disease. The soup consisted of herbs and vegetables containing natural ingredients that boost
immunity and help fight tumors. Patients should check with their doctors and with a licensed Traditional Chine Medicine specialist
for more information. The soup does not prevent or reverse the disease, but helped prolong survival for a percentage of patients
in a clinical study.
A naturopath may recommend some of the following nutritional
supplements to boost the patient's immune function and help fight tumor progression:
Vitamins and minerals. Vitamins
that are considered particularly beneficial to cancer patients include B-complex vitamins, especially vitamins B 6 ,
C, D, E, and K. Most important minerals are calcium, chromium, copper, iodine , molybdenum, germanium, selenium
, tellurium, and zinc . Many of these vitamins and minerals are strong antioxidants or cofactors for antioxidant
enzymes. However, patients should not take mega doses of these supplements without first consulting their doctors. Significant
adverse or toxic effects may occur at high dosages, which is especially true for the minerals.
Other nutritional supplements
may help fight cancer and support the body. They include essential fatty acids (fish or flaxseed oil), flavonoids,
pancreatic enzymes (to help digest foods), hormones such as DHEA, melatonin , or phytoestrogens.
Traditional Chinese medicine
Conventional treatment for leukemia is associated with
significant side effects. These adverse effects (such as nausea, vomiting , and fatigue) can be reduced with Chinese
herbal preparations. Patients should consult an experienced herbalist who will prescribe remedies to treat specific symptoms
that are caused by conventional cancer treatments.
Juice therapy may be helpful for patients with cancer. Patients
should mix one part of pure juice with one part of water before drinking.
There is conflicting evidence regarding the effectiveness of
homeopathy in cancer treatment. Because cancer chemotherapy may suppress the body's response to homeopathic treatment,
homeopathy may not be effective during chemotherapy. Therefore, patients should wait until after chemotherapy to try this
relatively safe alternative treatment.
Acupunture is the use of needles on the body to stimulate or
direct the meridians (channels) of energy flow in the body. Acupuncture has not been shown to have any anticancer effects.
However, it is an effective treatment for nausea , and other common side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Other alternative treatments include stress reduction, meditation,
yoga, t'ai chi , and the use of guided imagery A new report in 2003 showed early results for bee venomís possible
antitumor effects on lung cancer. However, further, research was needed.
Treatment for lung cancer depends on the type of cancer, its
location, and its stage. Treating the cancer early is key. In 2002, researchers announced the discovery of a chromosomal region
that shows the earliest genetic change in the development of lung cancer. Eventually, this discovery could lead to earlier
detection, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of lung cancer. The most commonly used modes of treatment are surgery, radiation
therapy, and chemotherapy.
Surgery is not usually an option for small cell lung cancers,
because they have likely spread beyond the lung by the time they are diagnosed. Because non-small cell lung cancers are less
aggressive, however, surgery can be used to treat them. The surgeon will decide on the type of surgery, depending on how much
of the lung is affected. Surgery may be the primary method of treatment, or radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be used
to shrink the tumor before surgery is attempted.
There are three different types of surgical operations:
Wedge resection. This procedure
involves removing a small part of the lung.
Lobectomy. A lobectomy is
the removal of one lobe of the lung. If the cancer is limited to one part of the lung, the surgeon will perform a lobectomy.
Pneumonectomy. A pneumonectomy
is the removal of an entire lung. If the surgeon feels that removal of the entire lung is the best option for curing the cancer,
a pneumonectomy will be performed.
The pain that follows surgery can be relieved by medications.
A more serious side effect of surgery is the patient's increased vulnerability to bacterial and viral infections. Antibiotics,
antiviral medications, and vaccines are often needed.
Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy rays to kill
cancer cells. It is used either by itself or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy. There are two types of radiation
therapy treatments: external beam radiation therapy and internal (or interstitial) radiotherapy. In external radiation therapy,
the radiation is delivered from a machine positioned outside the body. Internal radiation therapy uses a small pellet of radioactive
materials placed inside the body in the area of the cancer.
Radiation therapy may produce such side effects as tiredness,
skin rashes , upset stomach, and diarrhea. Dry or sore throats, difficulty in swallowing, and loss of hair in the treated
area are all minor side effects of radiation. These may disappear either during the course of the treatment or after the treatment
is over. The side effects should be discussed with the doctor.
Chemotherapy uses anticancer medications that are either given
intravenously or taken by mouth (orally). These drugs enter the bloodstream and travel to all parts of the body, killing cancer
cells that have spread to different organs. Chemotherapy is used as the primary treatment for cancers that have spread beyond
the lung and cannot be removed by surgery. It also can be used in addition to surgery or radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy is tailored to each patient's needs. Most patients
are given a combination of several different drugs. Besides killing the cancer cells, these drugs also harm normal cells.
Hence, the dose has to be carefully adjusted to minimize damage to normal cells. Chemotherapy often has severe side effects,
including nausea, vomiting, hair loss, anemia , weakening of the immune system, and sometimes infertility .
Most of these side effects end when the treatment is over. Other medications can be given to lessen the unpleasant side effects
If the lung cancer is detected before it has had a chance to
spread to other organs, and if it is treated appropriately, at least 49% of patients can survive five years or longer after
the initial diagnosis. Only 15% of lung cancers, however, are found at this early stage.
Due to improvements in surgical technique and the development
of new approaches to treatment, the one-year survival rate for lung cancer has improved considerably. As of 1998, approximately
40% of patients survive for at least a year after diagnosis, as opposed to 30% that survived 20 years ago. In 2003, 14% of
people diagnosed with lung cancer were reported to be long-term survivors.
The best way to prevent lung cancer is to not smoke or to quit
smoking if one has already started. Secondhand smoke from other people's tobacco also should be avoided when possible. In
2002, a report on the impact of cigarette smoking said that in California, decreases in smoking
among residents had resulted in reduced lung cancer death rates.
Appropriate precautions should be taken when working with cancer-causing
substances (carcinogens). Monitoring the diet and eating well-balanced meals that consist of whole foods, vegetables, and
fruits; eliminating toxins, exercising routinely, and weight reduction; testing houses for the presence of radon gas, and
removing asbestos from buildings also are useful preventive strategies.
As to be expected in
a book on alternative medicine, alternative therapies are statements of faith rather than science. In general surprissingly