To assist physicians in deciding what type of treatment is more appropriate for lung cancer, there is a recognized numerical staging system that creates benchmarks. At Stage I, the cancer is small and localized in a specific area of the lung. During phases 2 and 3, the cancer grows and spreads to the surrounding tissue and possibly the lymph nodes.
Stage 4 lung cancer is when the cancer has spread, or metastised, from the lungs to other parts of the body. Typically, the cancer spreads to the liver, bones, brain or adrenal glands. This is commonly known as secondary or advanced cancer. About 40% of lung cancer patients are diagnosed at stage 4, mainly because the symptoms of lung cancer could include symptoms of other diseases. In Stage 4, the cancer is not curable, but it can be treated. These are some of the symptoms that may help your doctor to diagnose stage 4 lung cancer.
Lung cancer patients often present with shortness of breath, wheezing and hoarseness. It is often a persistent cough, and the patient can cough up blood. Sometimes, a chronic cough that the patient may suddenly change for some time may be natural. Because these symptoms may also affect other conditions, they are not sufficient to suggest a diagnosis of lung cancer. However, if a smoker presents with these symptoms, a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer is likely to be considered by the doctor.
Patients may experience pain in various areas of the upper body, including the back, chest, arms, ribs and hips. Deep breathing often intensifies the pain that can be felt in the tissues or bones depending on the spread of the cancer. It can also be pain when swallowing. Some people suffer from frequent headaches, which is an indication that the cancer could be affecting the brain.
With stage 4 lung cancer, there is often a sudden, unexplained weight loss that is often accompanied by loss of appetite and a general feeling of weakness and fatigue. If this weight loss is significant and you do not have a diet, it should be investigated.
The nails on the fingers and toes can bulge, and the ends of the fingers change shape. This symptom usually develops in the latter stages of lung cancer, so it is a good indicator of diagnosis.
The diagnostic process for stage 4 lung cancer is usually some form of imaging, such as computed tomography (CAT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These scans give a detailed picture of the spread of the cancer as X-rays, allowing the doctor to determine the cancerous stage. A radionuclide scan can detect if the cancer has spread to other organs, while a bone scan will show if the bones are affected.
The doctor may also conduct tests to determine if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. This involves removing a tissue sample for testing under general anesthesia. This process is called medias or mediastinotomy, depending on whether the tissue is absorbed by the neck or the chest.
While all these symptoms refer to other conditions, if you experience one or more of them for two weeks or more, you should consult your doctor. Lung cancer is particularly dangerous because it metastises to other parts of the body relatively quickly, making it one of the most life-threatening cancers there is. As with most conditions, the earlier the diagnosis, the more likely that the treatment will succeed. During treatment for stage 4 lung cancer, the condition will not heal, it can prolong life and improve quality of life, so it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible.