Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of deaths due to cancer. It is the second most common cancer in men world over and also affects women.
Smoking tobacco is the principal cause for lung cancer. Whether it is in form of cigarettes or cigars, it is harmful. Before, smoking was common among men as it was considered to be an exclusively masculine activity.
Along with advancement in every field, some women have picked up bad habits also, smoking being one of them. When women smoke, they become more susceptible to harmful effects of smoking including lung cancer, as their bodies are less capable of detoxifying toxins of tobacco.
It is not only smokers, but people staying in contact with them are also at risk of developing lung cancer due to being exposed to cigarette smoke passively.
Apart from smoking, chronic damage to the lungs caused by exposure to various types of dust as in coal mines or in work involving silica or asbestos is a risk factor for lung cancer.
Women, who are exposed to smoke over a long period, while cooking with charcoal or wood, face the risk of developing chronic lung disease and lung cancer. Exhaust fumes from cars not only contaminate the environment but can cause lung cancer.
A person having lung cancer usually complaints of chronic cough associated with profuse mucoid expectoration which may be bloody. The cough increases in severity and frequency as the disease advances. There is loss of appetite and weight. As these symptoms mimic any chronic respiratory illness like chronic bronchitis or T.B., diagnosis of cancer is usually delayed. Because of this delay in diagnosis; the cancer usually becomes advanced and difficult to treat.
Once cancer in lungs has started, it can spread to the surface of the lung and also another lung. The tumor can become softened in the middle. Thus it further mimics the complicated lung diseases like pleural effusion, pneumonias and lung abscess.
This malignancy can further spread to other body parts like back bone, thyroid, kidneys, brain, e.t.c. damaging them and making the patient further sick.
Suspicion of lung cancer is raised when the patient does not respond to the treatment given for other conditions. Diagnosis is confirmed by X-ray, sputum examination and other relevant diagnostic tests like scans and biopsy.
When diagnosed, the cancer is usually advanced and spread, thus being inoperable. The affected person is usually given chemotherapy or radiotherapy for palliative relief but these are also hazardous and provide only some relief in symptoms. Thus quality of life of the person is affected till he dies.
It is wise to prevent lung cancer occurring in individuals. Prevention of smoking is the first step necessary for it. People need to be educated about the hazards of both active and passive smoking.
Government of Rwanda has rightly banned smoking in public places and implemented it. Smokeless stoves have also been introduced to prevent domestic exposure to smoke.
Screening of all motor vehicles done regularly here is also a good measure to check emission of toxic fumes, thus minimizing the risk of inhalation of these fumes by people which can lead to lung cancer.
Development of green belts in cities is also useful in minimizing the environmental pollution caused by exhaust fumes from vehicles.
Workers working in places having chronic exposure to fumes should follow safety measures like use of face masks.
People having symptoms of any chronic lung disease should be screened for lung cancer. If detected early, there are more chances of successful treatment of the cancer. Screening of individuals who carry a high risk of lung cancer will be very useful in this regard.
Pande is a specialist internal medicine-Ruhengeri Hospital