Harvard University

How To Stop Pneumonia From Becoming Cancer

They say you can die from pneumonia, but what do they mean by that? Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics, but sometimes not all the bacteria is killed off by the antibiotics and the pneumonia can return.

Pneumonia also causes inflammation in the lungs. If the inflammation remains, your body will fight back by developing what is called pleural effusion. Pleural effusion occurs when inflammation causes fluid to accumulate between the lungs and the lung linings. If the pleural effusion is not treated and remains, it will eventually thicken and form nodules or plaques. This thickening is called “pleural thickening”.

What, Exactly, Is Pleural Thickening?

The lining of the lungs, called the pleura or pleural membranes, consists of thin membranes that cover the lungs and provide protection and support. Some diseases such as bacterial pneumonia can cause these membranes to thicken, often as a result of inflammation.

So pleural thickening is the thickening and hardening of the pleura or pleural fluids.

It can occur in 2 forms:

1. Diffuse pleural thickening extends over a large area and may restrict expansion of the lungs.

2. Pleural Plaques are localized areas of pleural thickening/calcification which do not usually interfere with breathing.

To diagnose the condition a doctor will use an imaging test such as an MRI or a CT scan, and may also take a fine needle biopsy of the lung tissue. Pleural thickening is considered to be a life threatening condition.

Some of the early symptoms of pleural thickening include difficulty breathing immediately after physical activity and a slight pain in the chest. In most cases, the initial symptoms of pleural thickening are difficult to detect even for the person experiencing them.

The more advanced symptoms of pleural thickening include extreme difficulty breathing even when at rest, chronic chest pain and a chronic cough.

These pleural symptoms can also occur in conjunction with a condition called hemothorax, which is caused by the presence of blood in the chest cavity.

Thickening of the pleural membranes is not a condition which is treatable. Because the thickening is a symptom of a disease, treatment is more focused on the underlying cause of the thickening.

Causes of Pleural Thickening:

Pleural thickening can occur as a result of any inflammation occurring in the lungs.

Diagnosis of Pleural Thickening:

The degree of thickening helps doctors determine whether the cause is benign or malignant (cancerous). The appearance of nodules, circumferential thickening (thickening with well defined borders) and thickening of more than 1 cm may be a sign of malignancy.

Prevention/Solution

In most cases, by the time symptoms of pleural thickening trigger a diagnosis the condition cannot be treated. Doctors will focus on relieving the symptoms of pleural thickening such as the chest pain and the inability to breathe. From time to time the lungs may fill with fluid and the doctor may recommend surgery to relieve the pressure caused by the fluid, but there is no medication or surgery that can control the spreading of the effects of pleural thickening once it has advanced to the point of creating noticeable symptoms. If pleural thickening is caught early enough it may be treated by surgery. Doctors will remove any infected lung tissue, and this may mean the removal of an entire lung.

If the nodules are diagnosed as malignant, the usual cancer treatments will be ordered by your doctor, like surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

But the way to avoid all this is to get rid of the pleural effusion before it begins to thicken and form the nodules in the first place.

There are things you can do to help your doctor and yourself. When you have been diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia:

– Always finish taking any prescribed medications. If you don’t finish taking your medications your pneumonia can come back and antibiotic-resistant bacteria can continue to grow.

– Keep all of your future appointments and xrays your doctor has ordered. You might feel better, but sometimes the round of antibiotics you took might not have gotten rid of all the bacteria. It’s important for your doctor to keep an eye on your health for some time to make sure your pneumonia does not come back.

– Turn down your humidifiers and put a cap of bleach in the water each time you fill them.

– Omega3 fatty acids, Flavonoids, Carotenoids, Cruciferous, Alfalfa and Aloe Vera, taken orally, will help to soothe the lining of the lung and help with inflammation and tissue repair/replacement.

– Vitamin E will help you breathe easier and will help dissolve scar tissue.

– Garlic capsules can help kill bacteria.

– Drink lots of water as it will help to flush toxins. Also, liquids keep you from becoming dehydrated and help loosen mucus in your lungs.

– Stay away from alcohol and smoke.

– Get plenty of sleep — don’t push it. Things can wait to be done until after you are completely healed.

Some herbal formulas relieve symptoms without interfering with the healing process. For example, white willow bark contains a different form of salicylic acid than aspirin, so that it blocks only the inflammation chain of the prostaglandins and not the healing chain.

Eat whole, natural foods and stay away from convenience foods and fast foods which conatin additives, toxins and chemicals. If there are foods that are out of season in your area then you should supplement your diet with vitamins. This will not only make you stronger, it will help your medications work better.

There was a link found between lung function and Vitamin D levels in a study done at University of Auckland in New Zealand (December 2005, “Chest”). The higher levels of Vitamin D that were present determined how much better the lungs were preforming. Harvard University did another study and found that improved survival rates were connected to higher levels of Vitamin D in cancer patients who had surgery.

Dr. Ray Sahelian who is an alternative medicine expert explains that oxidative inflammation and stress greatly influence lung damage. Supplements with anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants can counteract this and using them benefits general lung health. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium, curcumin, omega-3 fatty acids and resveratrol are examples of anti-inflammatories and strong antioxidants. Dr. Sahelian notes specific research from Japan on COPD patients who take omega-3 fatty acid supplements that shows improved breathing.

Warnings

Do not use antioxidant supplements if you take pharmaceutical drugs. Some antioxidant supplements can interfere with certain types of chemotherapy drugs because they remove chemicals and other toxins (drugs) from your blood, so if you are undergoing this treatment for lung cancer, do not take antioxidants. Quit taking them a week before starting treatment and then you can begin taking them again a week after your treatments are completed. Also, if you are undergoing chemotherapy you should stop taking any Vitamin B supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E can interact with blood-thinning medications and in themselves work like blood thinners so you should not take them before or during surgeries. Certain herbs such as St. John’s Wort, gingko, and ginseng can interfere with blood clotting and can cause potentially harmful changes in blood pressure and heart rate in people undergoing anesthesia. If you plan to take supplements along with your treatment, do your homework and research the effects these herbs and supplements have on different drugs, treatments or surgery.

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