Well, this is a very tricky question and no straight answer to the same is possible because there are no specific tests to tell you how long a lung cancer has been growing. Cancer spread and growth varies from one person to another and depends on the type of cancer. The bad news is that lung cancer grows quicker than other cancers, so detections at an advanced stage are quite common.
In lung cancer, the cells start to change quickly wherein they develop and grow at a quicker rate. For a cell to turn into a 1cm tumor, it has to undergo at least 30 divisions. Now, a tumor has to be at least half an inch in size to be detected with an X-ray.
An average lung cancer doubles its size within 3 to 6 months and thus, it takes several years for the cancer to be detected in a chest X-ray. Thus, it’s quite likely that the cancer had taken years to develop before producing symptoms or detected by an X-ray.
Diagnosis of lung cancer
Diagnosis of lung cancer varies from one individual to another and it completely depends on the medical team to choose the tests depending on various factors. Some of the factors that a medical team considers include the following:
- Medical history of the patient
- Specific symptoms
- Findings during a physical exam of the patient
- Imaging tests
Diagnosis of the lung cancer often starts with imaging tests that may help detect lesions or tumors. Imaging tests take pictures that help the doctor find out whether the cancer is localized or has spread to other parts of the body. In some cancer cases, even after successful treatment, lung cancer can relapse and here too imaging tests can provide exact pictures from inside the body. Some of the commonly used imaging tests include:
- CT (Computed Tomography) Scan
- PET (Positron emission tomography) scan
- Bone scan
In case your doctor notices something suspicious in the images then he/she will probe further by carrying out tests on the fluid or tissue surrounding the lung. There are several procedures used to remove cells from inside the body and examine them under the microscope to confirm cancer. Here’s a list of these tests:
- Endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS)
- Bronchoscopy biopsy
- Endoscopic esophageal ultrasound (EUS)
- Mediastinoscopy and mediastinotomy
- Sputum cytology
- Open biopsy
- Thoracoscopy or video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) biopsy
- Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy
Researchers around the world are trying to develop advanced tests, which can help in screening of early lung cancer and improve the survival rates. If you’ve enough reasons to believe that you’re suffering from lung cancer then get in touch with your doctor immediately.
Lung Cancer Screening
Even before you start experiencing lung cancer symptoms, you can go for a screening to find out if there’s anything suspicious. This helps in the detection and treatment of early stage cancer. There are different types screening tests that can accurately diagnose early stage cancer.
Staging of Lung Cancer
Staging is a way to find out whether the lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It’s extremely helpful in creating a treatment plan. The staging of lung cancer is crucial because not only the treatment but also the general outlook of your recovery plan depends on it.
Your doctor can carry out tests to find out some specific types of DNA changes, which are often referred to as genomic, biomarker or molecular testing. These tests try to identify mutations or changes in the DNA of the tumor and certain protein levels within the tumor. Equipped with this information, your doctor can create a treatment plan that specifically targets the mutating cells.
It has been found that the changes or mutations lead to abnormal cell growth and tumor testing can accurately identify the specific mutations in these cancer cells. Now, targeting the mutating cells can arrest the growth of the tumor. Even though tumor testing in lung cancer holds tremendous potential for a permanent cure but it hasn’t yet been successful in achieving the same.