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Difference between Lung cancer and Bronchitis

Lung cancer vs Bronchitis

With advancing pollution and more people taking to smoking, the number of people being diagnosed with lung cancer is steadily rising. Lung cancer is now the leading cause of deaths due to cancer. However, the symptoms of lung cancer differ vastly from bronchitis which is one of the commonest affections of chronic smokers.

Lung cancer is an uncontrolled and uncoordinated overgrowth of the lung tissue. The cancer can happen in any part of the lung tissue. Slowly the excess cells start taking away the nutrition that is needed for the healthy cells to function adequately. This leads to the symptoms of cancer. The exact cause is unknown but repetitive irritation of the cells by habits like smoking tobacco or narcotics, inhaling toxic fumes at work, etc have been very strongly associated with lung cancer. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways of the lungs. Causes are smoking tobacco, inhaling toxic vapors, pollution, infection with bacteria/virus/fungi and rarely, due to an enzyme deficiency.

The symptoms of the two conditions are very different although coughing is a symptom which is common to the two. Symptoms seen in any cancer like weight loss, anorexia, weakness are seen even in lung cancer. Symptoms specific to lung cancer are a chronic, worsening cough with or without phlegm, presence of blood in sputum, chest pain, breathlessness out of proportion to activities or a lump that presses on the food pipe causing difficulty in swallowing food. Bronchitis manifests as severe cough most often with phlegm, fever, difficulty in breathing while talking/laughing and pain in the throat. Occasionally, there will be chest pain while coughing.

To investigate lung cancer, one needs to undergo a battery of blood tests and imaging procedures. A chest x-ray, CT scan of chest, blood counts, lung function tests and bronchoscopy are required to diagnose a lung cancer accurately. Identification of the stage and type of cancer will require FNAC i.e. sample collection from the tumor for pathological identification. Once the exact type of cancer is identified, the treatment can be initiated. Bronchitis is diagnosed by a chest x-ray and blood counts. There is often a spike in the white blood cell count. A sputum sample might be collected to check for infection. Sputum might be cultured to check for antibiotic sensitivity to initiate treatment.

Prognosis for lung cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. If the cancer has already spread beyond the lung tissue or metastasized to other organs via the blood stream then the prognosis becomes poorer. Acute bronchitis settles down quickly with treatment within 10-15 days but chronic bronchitis caused by smoking might never completely get cured despite rigorous therapy.

Treatment for lung cancer is removal of the cancer. Using chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgical removal, the cancer can be treated. Bronchitis is treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, expectorants and cough suppressants. Smoking must be given up at first notice if one wishes better health.

Take home pointers:

Lung cancer is an abnormal overgrowth of lung tissue. Symptoms occur due to pressure symptoms arising from the growth or due to deterioration of lung function. Symptoms are a worsening, chronic cough, breathlessness, weight loss, anorexia and coughing up blood.
Bronchitis is inflammation of lung airways called bronchi. Symptoms are cough with phlegm, fever, chest pain and breathlessness. A strong history of smoking is suggestive.
Diagnosis of both is by blood counts and chest x-ray. A CT scan and bronchoscopy will also be needed for confirming lung cancer. A sputum culture might be needed for bronchitis.
Treatment of lung cancer is based on the type, stage and spread of cancer. Radiation, chemotherapy and surgery are the modalities available. Bronchitis is treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.


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