Non-small cell lung cancer is broken down into stages that denote the migration of cancerous tumors into other areas of the body. Unfortunately, because of the lack of symptoms in the earlier stages, most lung cancers fail to be diagnosed until they have progressed into other regions, sometimes causing further complications. Such is the case with stage four lung cancer.
Lung cancer develops when a group of cells begin to grow at an abnormal rate. These cells begin to line the air passages and interior and exterior walls of the lungs. The cells eventually combine to form masses that are known as tumors. Although tumors fall into two categories, benign and malignant, it is the malignant tumors that denote cancer.
When lung cancer has progressed into state four, other areas of the body become affected. As lung tumors begin to grow and spread, they have a tendency to migrate to the brain, adrenals, liver and bones. This migration, known as metastases, can set the stage for a number of symptoms that can coincide with stage four lung cancers. Symptoms such as, a continuous cough that will not go away, bone pain, wheezing and shortness of breath, unexplained fatigue and weight loss, coughing up blood, neck swelling and difficulty swallowing, may often develop.
Stage four lung cancer can be diagnosed with a chest X-ray. A bone scan can also be done to determine whether or not the cancer has spread to the bone. In this test, radioactive elements are injected into the blood stream which can identify where exactly the cancer has spread. Blood work and CT scans are also done to confirm the initial diagnosis.
Although lung cancer cannot be cured, especially when it has progressed into stage four, it can still be treated on a case by case basis. Chemotherapy is often used to combat the overgrowth of cancer cells in the body over a three- to four-month period, with a few weeks break in between to allow the body some rest time. In some cases, research has shown that chemotherapy has been helpful in increasing the lifespan, and relieving the symptoms of individuals with stage four lung cancers.
The decision to have chemotherapy treatments during stage four lung cancer is completely up to the patient, unless she is found to be too weak or ill to benefit from it. The side effects of chemotherapy are short-term, but tend to be less severe than the symptoms that may occur from stage four lung cancer that remains untreated. Stage four lung cancer patients who choose to forgo chemotherapy treatment often seek comfort in hospice programs that offer support and home care for the ailing patient.
It is common misconception that all cancers that metastases to the lungs are considered to be a form of lung cancer. This is untrue. The only form of cancer that can be categorized as lung cancer, is one that specifically begins in the lungs. Therefore, cancer that has 'spread to the lungs,' is considered to be a secondary form of the original.