Senior Medical Officer at the National Chest Hospital, Dr. Terry Baker, is urging persons who have been exposed to cigarette smoke over an extended period to look out for signs of lung cancer.
Speaking in an interview with JIS News, Dr. Baker, who is a pulmonologist and internist, pointed out that the disease may present itself in myriad ways, and early signs may often be attributed to other conditions.
“The person may have a cough, or they may begin to cough up phlegm or mucous that has changed in colour or consistency, or they may begin to cough up blood. They may have chest pain or consistent hoarseness,” she said.
She, however, warned that persons may have pain in other parts of the body, such as arthritis.
“This is a particular arthritis or inflammation that we see affecting the bones and joints in persons who have lung cancer. The bones and joints may become swollen and very tender.
“The cancer may spread to other organs, to the brain (the person may have severe headaches, personality changes or seizures), to the spine or to the bone. You may also have collapse of the spine,” she explained.
Dr. Baker pointed out that because there are no early signs or definitive signs that point to an ailment being lung cancer, one has to have a high index of suspicion when somebody presents with particular complaints.
“When it becomes clinically apparent, and the person begins to feel sick, is usually when the cancer has been present within the body for quite a while and has now spread or invaded other structures,” she said.
“Cancer cells can stay in the lung and multiply, divide and become larger and they stay there for quite a while before the person becomes ill, and that is part of the difficulty with lung cancer. While we recognise and applaud the advances made in terms of treating lung cancer, the five-year survival is very low,” Dr. Baker added.
Dr. Baker was, however, quick to assure that having advanced disease does not mean that it will not be treated.
“We may not be able to cure, but we will still treat and endeavour to arrest the spread of the growth of the cancer and help the person in terms of overcoming whatever complications they may have due to the presence of the cancer, and generally help them to feel better and to better manage in terms of other issues or complications that may arise,” she explained.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, with more than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined.
Cigarette smoking is associated with a number of other cancers, including cancers of the tongue, breast, cervix, stomach and colon as well as heart disease.
National Chest Hospital is the only specialist hospital in the island that specifically treats patients with chest-related illnesses. The month of November is observed worldwide as Lung Cancer Awareness Month.