I can’t breathe!

By Emmanuel I Achebe
3rd year medical student (UTG)

Yes! You definitely can’t breathe with lung cancer. Not just breathlessness.

So many other symptoms you see with a diagnose and confirmed cancer of the lungs. Just to mention a few of the main symptoms of lung cancer include:

1.         A cough that doesn’t go away after 2 to 3 weeks


2.         Coughing up blood

3.         Lack of energy

4.         A long-standing cough that gets worse

5.         Chest infections that keep coming back

6.         An ache or pain in the chest when breathing or coughing.

As we can see from the points listed above, all these symptoms are severe and involve a great deal of longsuffering. On today’s article, we will be talking about lung cancer from a national and broader perspective and its effects.

What is lung cancer?

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We will start with the definition of cancer before going into lung cancer.

Cancer is a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body. Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. It is an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of the cells in the body. These abnormal cells kill the normal cells of the body and disrupt the normal body functions.

Now because we now know that cancer cells can grow anywhere when these cells grow in the lungs, we refer to it as lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world accounting for 2.2million new cases and 1.8 million deaths. In The Gambia lung cancer is ranked 4th on the list of cancer-causing disease with a 5.1% based on the prevalence of new cases, and is ranked 3rd when it comes to mortality rate.

How long does lung cancer take to develop?

Early lung cancer does not alert obvious physical changes. Moreover, people can live with lung cancer for so many years before they show any signs or symptoms. For example, it takes around eight years for a type of lung cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma to reach a size of 30mm when it is most commonly diagnosed.

Most often lung cancer does not show any signs and symptoms until it has advanced to higher stages when it becomes difficult to treat.

It is true total or complete abstinence might be somewhat difficult, but a reduction or minimal practice of those habits that cause lung cancer will help reduce the risk. Although, individual might still be at risk, but a lower rate until totally discontinued.

What causes lung cancer?

The World Health Organization estimates that lung cancer deaths worldwide will continue to rise, largely as a result of an increase in global tobacco use, especially in Asia. Tobacco use is the principal risk factor for lung cancer, and a large proportion of all pulmonary carcinomas are attributable to the effects of cigarette smoking. Despite efforts to curb tobacco smoking, there are approximately 1.1 billion smokers worldwide, and if the current trends continue, that number would increase to 1.9 billion by 2025.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 60 different toxic substances, which are known to be carcinogenic (cancer-producing).

Smoking and its effects


1)  Cigarette smoking was associated with a 70% increase in the age-specific death rates of men and a lesser increase in the death rates of women (very few women smoke in the Gambia) .

(2) Cigarette smoking was causally related to lung cancer in men. The magnitude of the effect of cigarette smoking far outweighed all other factors leading to lung cancer. The risk for lung cancer increased with the duration of smoking and the number of cigarettes smoked per day. The report estimated that the average male smoker had an approximately 9-fold to 10-fold risk for lung cancer, whereas heavy smokers had at least a 20-fold risk.

(3) Cigarette smoking was believed more important than occupational exposures in the causation of lung cancer in the general population.

(4) Cigarette smoking is the most important cause of chronic bronchitis.

(5) Male cigarette smokers had a higher death rate from coronary artery disease than male nonsmokers.

Most cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking, although people who have never smoked can also develop the condition.

Passive smoking

If you do not smoke, frequent exposure to other people’s tobacco smoke or cigarette smoke (passive smoking) can increase your risk of developing lung cancer.

Stages of lung cancer

The four stages of lung cancer (based on a grading system) are known as TNM classification. The TNM grades have been derived from diagnostic tests such as:

o          Blood tests

o          Computed tomography (CT) scans

o          Bronchoscopy

o          Positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

Knowing the stage of the lung cancer helps the oncologist select the right treatment.

In the increasing order of severity. The stages are as follows:

Stage 0: This stage describes cancer in situ, which means “in place” stage 0 cancers are still located in the place they started and do not spread to the nearby tissues. This stage of cancer is often highly curable. Usually by removing the entire tumor with surgery.

Stage 1: This stage is usually a small tumor that has not grown deeply into the nearby tissues. It is often called early-stage cancer.

Stage 2 & 3:  All these two stages, Lung cancer has grown more deeply into its adjacent tissues. Lung cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage 4: This stage indicates that the lung cancer has spread in other organs. This is usually known as the advanced stage of lung cancer.

Treatment for lung cancer

So yeah folks, treatment of lung cancer will depend on a number of factors. Including:

o          The stage of the lung cancer

o          Genetic mutations involved

o          Patients’ general health, including other medical conditions

o          Your age


You will most likely need a surgery to remove the cancerous part of the lung. Apart from surgery it’s possible that you will not need any other treatment.

We all want to live a longer and healthy life, so let’s observe as many healthy habits we can and fight lung cancer.