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Capital & Coast DHB Respiratory Service

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Lung Cancer

When abnormal malignant cells divide and grow in an uncontrolled fashion in the lung tissue, a cancer results. The effect of this is to destroy normal lung tissue, and a cancerous growth can block off one of the breathing tubes.  The most common cause is cigarette smoke, but other possible inhaled particles can be a cause, too, such as asbestos fibres, marijuana smoke and a number of other chemicals. 

There are several different types of cancer that behave in different ways and need different treatment. 

Common signs and symptoms
  • a cough that gets worse with time
  • coughing up blood
  • chest pain
  • loss of appetite and weight
  • tiredness
  • repeated doses of, or not improving, bronchitis or pneumonia.

To check for lung cancer your doctor will look at your medical and smoking history and do a physical examination. This is usually followed by a number of tests aimed at confirming cancer and finding out the types, checking the extent of cancer, and assessing your overall health. Breathing tests are needed to consider whether there is enough lung capacity to allow some kinds of treatment. The aim of the tests is to confirm the diagnosis and find out what type of cancer it is; this usually involves obtaining some cells to look at under the microscope.

Test you are likely to have include:

  • chest x-ray. This is the first test that may raise the question of a lung cancer.  It is usually followed by other tests to confirm the diagnosis
  • CT scans with or without fine needle aspirate (see below)
  • bronchoscopy  (see below)
  • lung biopsy
When lung cancer is diagnosed,  the extent of the disease is worked out (this is called staging) because the kind of treatment depends on the type of cancer and how much there is.
Different treatment options include:
  • surgery i.e. an operation to remove the part of lung affected by cancer.  The type of surgery depends on the size and type of cancer
  • radiotherapy is a form of high energy radiation (X-ray) that kills cancer cells
  • chemotherapy is the use of drugs aimed at killing cancer cells.

If a curative treatment is not feasible, treatments are still possible to reduce the effects of a cancer and keep the person as well as possible.

If you have a lung cancer there will be ongoing follow-up with specialists and nurses throughout treatment and afterwards.
For more information about lung cancer see www.cancernz.org.nz

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This page was last updated at 3:28PM on September 16, 2019.