Anyone who is healthy breathes automatically – without thinking about what the lungs do. Some even blame the vital organ for exertions such as smoking. This can lead to mortal danger in diseases of the lungs and respiratory tract.

The human lungs: every day in adults, around 10 000 liters of air flow through.

Without realizing it, adult, healthy people breathe at rest about 12 to 16 times a minute. Each time, about half a liter of air flows through the airways into the lungs and out again.

Construction and location

Physicians refer to all parts of the body, which are traversed by the inhalation and exhalation of air as airways: Through the mouth and nose, the air passes through the throat into the trachea. The trachea lies behind the breastbone and divides in the thorax into a left and a right main bronchus. These lead together with the respective pulmonary vessels to the left or right lung.

The lung (Latin: Pulmo) is in fact paired. Each of the two lungs is supplied with its own blood vessels and, with the respective main bronchus, also has its own air supply, which enters the lungs together with the veins and arteries at the so-called pulmonary hilum. The left lung is slightly smaller than the right and consists of only two instead of three lobes because in its vicinity the heart is located and thus less space available. Each main bronchus divides according to the number of lung lobes in so-called lobe bronchi and then branches out into Segementbronchien and ever smaller bronchi and bronchioli until at the end of the small alveoli, the so-called alveoli.

They are the place where the lung performs its most important function, the gas exchange, giving the lung tissue its spongy appearance.

What are the job of the lungs and respiratory system?

The airways not only carry air into the lungs, but cilia on their walls also purify the air. Foreign matter such as bacteria and dust particles remain hanging in it and are transported along with the lying on the cilia on the pharynx throat direction. He is either swallowed unnoticed or – for example, if the cilia are unable to afford the transport – coughed off.

The most important task of the lung is the gas exchange. Since our body needs a lot of oxygen and has to excrete corresponding amounts of carbon dioxide, a large area is necessary for this. These provide the alveoli. They have very thin walls that almost directly border the blood vessels. This makes it possible for the oxygen from the respiratory air to pass through these walls into the oxygen-poor blood of the pulmonary vessels, while the carbon dioxide passes from the blood into the alveoli.

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Pulmonary and respiratory diseases

If the lungs become infected, it can hinder breathing and even have life-threatening consequences. It is not for nothing that lung and bronchial cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and pneumonia are among the ten leading causes of death in Germany. One of the most important risk factors for lung disease is smoking. Because tobacco smoke not only favors the development of malignant diseases such as lung cancer but also damages, among other things, the cilia, which transport phlegm and pathogens outside. This increases the risk of infection. Certain lung diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are very often the result of many years of smoking. If you want to do something good for your lungs, then you should do without cigarettes and similar tobacco products.

Lung cancer is a malignant neoplasm in the respiratory system (lungs and bronchi). In addition to breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer, it is one of the most common cancers worldwide. Unfortunately, the number of illnesses continues to increase, especially among women.

Short version:

  • Smoking causes 85% of lung cancers.
  • Lung cancer is caused by a change in the genetic material due to chronic damage.
  • Lung carcinomas can be divided into two groups.
  • Because symptoms are unrecognized or misinterpreted, lung cancer is often discovered by accident during examinations.
  • The treatment of a lung tumor depends on the type of cancer.

In Austria, around 2,500 men and almost 1,200 women suffer from bronchial carcinoma each year. Thus lung cancer is second only to prostate cancer in males and third in women after breast and colon cancer. Most cases are detected between the 55th and the 65th year of life. However, patients can be significantly younger.

The main risk factor for the development of lung cancer is cigarette smoking: Around 85% of all cases can be attributed to tobacco consumption. Hereditary predispositions or contact with other harmful substances (such as arsenic, radon or asbestos), on the other hand, play a subordinate role. 3-5% of the diseases are caused by passive smoking.

From surgery to Targeted Therapy: Depending on the type and stage, lung cancer is treated differently.

Anyone smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for over 20 years increases their lung cancer risk 30 to 40 times. By contrast, a familial accumulation only leads to a doubling or tripling of the risk.

How does lung cancer develop?

In the cells of the mucous membranes of the bronchi and in the alveoli, there is a change in the genetic material due to prolonged chronic damage (for example, chronic inflammation from cigarette smoke). After a long time, this change means that the normal control mechanisms for the growth and death of cells are no longer effective and a malignant tumor develops. At an early stage of development, this process can sometimes be reversed, such as when the damaging effects are stopped.

Basically, two groups of lung cancer are differentiated:

  1. Non-small cell lung carcinoma

The non-small cell type accounts for around three quarters of cancers of the lung. It is roughly subdivided into:

  • squamous cell carcinoma
  • the adenocarcinoma
  • the large cell carcinoma
  1. Small cell lung carcinoma

Small cell lung cancer (about 20% of the disease) spreads rapidly through the bloodstream and lymphatics, but is better for chemotherapy.

This distinction is important from a medical point of view, because the therapy is targeted accordingly.

what-are-the-symptoms-of-lungs-cancer

Which symptoms occur?

In those cases of lung cancer that are discovered at an early stage, these are generally incidental findings: pulmonary x-raying is actually done for quite different reasons, e.g. in case of release for surgical procedures or severe infections suggesting pneumonia.

The most significant problem is that the disease remains asymptomatic for a long time. Often, the typical symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue or back pain, misinterpreted or ignored. Since the majority of sufferers are smokers with chronic bronchitis and often have cardiovascular problems, the symptoms are attributed to them.

A doctor’s visit is therefore often delayed for a long time. Only the appearance of blood in the sputum or severe weight loss are alarming. More than two-thirds of all cases of lung cancer are therefore diagnosed at a local or systemic (i.e., distant metastasis) stage.

Unfortunately, previous large-scale studies on the possibility of early diagnosis have not shown sufficiently satisfactory results to be meaningful to broad sections of the population. A so-called spiral computed tomography (spiral CT) with low radiation dose is therefore recommended as a preventive check only certain risk groups: chronic smokers over 50 years, especially if at the same time a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is present; in addition, in the case of lung cancer in the family or a workplace that is burdened by inhaled carcinogens (carcinogenic substances). However, the last two factors only seem relevant if the person smokes himself at the same time.

How does the doctor make a diagnosis?

If lung cancer is suspected, the patient is referred to a specialized department where a complete examination is made as soon as possible. Among other things, the stage of the disease, the type of tumor and the spread in the body is examined.

For this purpose, different examination methods such as computed tomography, ultrasound, biopsy or a PET scan are performed.

Which treatment methods are available?

The choice of treatment for lung cancer depends largely on the type of cancer and the stage of the cancer. Treatment options range from surgery to radiation and chemotherapy, to molecular biology therapy.

What is the prognosis for lung cancer?

In contrast to other types of cancer, in the case of bronchial carcinoma, there are no meaningful early detection measures or long-term successful treatment methods. Lung cancer is the only cancer in which the rate of new disease is nearly identical to that of deaths.

Taking all the cases together, current treatment methods achieve a 5-year survival rate of only 15%. However, when early-stage non-small cell lung cancer is detected, around 75 out of every 100 people treated surgically are still alive five years later.

At the same time, lung cancer is virtually the only cancer that has a prevalent and avoidable risk factor. Prevention through smoking cessation is therefore at the forefront.

Especially