A major problem with diagnosing lung cancer correctly is that its symptoms can often be mistaken for those of another condition. Signs of cough, back pain, and weight loss are common enough that they aren’t given a second thought to and most people dismiss them. Due to this, the disease has increased chances of progressing to more severe stages before being diagnosed. As cancer grows, the symptoms become more obvious and persistent. If a person has the following symptoms for a prolonged period of time, and no treatment has provided relief, it is essential to consult a doctor immediately.
- Persistent or bloody cough
- Pain and difficulty while breathing and swallowing
- Chest pain
- Back pain
- Loss of hair, appetite and unexplained weight loss
- Noisy breathing
- Traces of blood in saliva and mucus
- Fever and headache
There are a number of ways in which lung cancer can be diagnosed, depending from case to case. The tests mentioned below are carried out if the patient or their physician suspects the possibility of lung cancer.
- Imaging tests: Pictures obtained through a CT scan, PET scan and a bone scan can help doctors assess if there are cancer cells, its exact location, and the size of the tumor.
- Procedures: Inconclusive test results mean that doctors will then most likely recommend mildly invasive procedures to remove suspicious tissue and have it checked for malignancy under a microscope.
Based on the results from the imaging test and procedures, the doctors diagnose and also determine the stage of cancer. A team of doctors works out the treatment plan based on the size of the tumor, the age of the patient and their overall case history and health.
Treatment options for Stage III lung cancer
There is no one particular or standard treatment protocol that can work for all cases of stage III lung cancer. Before opting for any procedure, it is important for the patient to attain all the treatment information for stage 3 lung cancer. The treatment method is planned by a team of doctors including a pulmonologist, oncologist, thoracic surgeon, specialist nurses and in some cases social workers. One or a combination of the following options are used — chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. With advancements in medical science, new options like clinical trials, targeted therapies and immunotherapy are available today to treat cancer patients.
- Surgery: Surgical procedures are used to remove Stage III A cancers. They are usually followed by chemotherapy to ensure that cancer cells do not recur. Surgery is usually not recommended in cases of Stage III B as the cancer is more advanced. In such cases, chemotherapy is performed to reduce the size of the tumor, followed by a surgery to remove the reduced tumor.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy can be used as a standalone treatment or combined with surgery and radiation therapy. As Stage III cancers are usually slightly advanced, the call is taken based on the health of the patient and the size of the tumor.
- Radiation therapy: For patients with Stage III cancer, where surgery is not possible, radiation therapy is often combined with chemotherapy to remove cancer. Radiation therapy works well to remove the cancer tissues that have blocked the airways leading to the lungs.
- Immunotherapy: This therapy uses medication to improve a person’s immune system and helps them fight cancer, even if it is in the advanced stage. The procedure is carried out through inserting an IV into the patient’s veins. A new medicine developed in 2017 and approved in 2018 named Durvalumab is being used now to treat people with Stage IV lung cancer along after chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It has also shown improvement in people with Stage III lung cancer. Necitumumab is an immunotherapy medicine that is being recommended with a combination of chemotherapy for Stage III B squamous NSCLC.
- Targeted therapy: This is a new treatment developed by scientists to target the gene mutation in cells that cause cancer. The medications target the specific tumor cells and prevent them from multiplying. As targeted therapy focuses on the cause of the tumor, the treatment is found effective to stop cancer from progressing. However, the patient needs to have detailed discussion about this option with their doctors as many targeted therapies are in trial stages and only a few for Stage III lung cancer are approved.
Outlook and survival rates post treatment
It has been recorded that the life expectancy of Stage III lung cancer is at 15 months. About 14% of the patients who have had Stage III A lung cancer have survived for more than 5 years and about 5% have survived Stage III B lung cancer. With targeted therapies showing better results, and more patients coming forward to be part of clinical trials, there is a promise that these numbers will improve in the years ahead.