Lung cancer: opportunities, symptoms and prevention

The statistics look frightening: lung cancer is the third most common cancer and the most deadly. Each year, lung cancer claims more lives than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.

What do you need to know about lung cancer? The following are the basics.

What is lung cancer?
Your body’s cells are always dividing and growing. Cancer is a disease in which some cells begin to divide uncontrollably and grow into lumps, also called tumors. These tumors can start in any organ or tissue.

Lung cancer describes any cancer that starts in the lungs. From there, this cancer can spread to your lymph nodes or other organs.

5 quick facts about lung cancer
1. Smoking causes about 80 to 90 percent of lung cancers.
2. The best way to prevent lung cancer is to quit smoking as soon as possible or for good.
3. In its early stages, lung cancer usually does not cause any symptoms.
4. Screening can detect lung cancer early, at its most treatable stage.
5. Treatment for lung cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. If you are diagnosed, our cancer care team will tailor a treatment plan to fit your unique case.

Are you at risk?

Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for lung cancer, as is smoking other tobacco products such as cigars. Tobacco smoke contains thousands of unhealthy chemicals. When you smoke, you breathe this toxic mixture directly into your lungs.

It’s also dangerous for those around you because secondhand smoke can also cause lung cancer.

The more you smoke and the more you smoke, the higher your risk. However, no amount of smoking is safe. Even if you smoke only occasionally, your risk of developing lung cancer increases.

Long-term exposure to radon gas is the second most important risk factor. Radon is a gas that occurs naturally in rocks, soil and water. People may be exposed to radon if the gas leaks into their homes or workplaces. The only way to detect radon gas is to have your home tested for radon gas because it is odorless, tasteless and invisible to the naked eye.

Other risk factors include exposure to asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust and some forms of other chemicals. Having a personal or family history of lung cancer can also increase your risk.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

There are many different symptoms of lung cancer. They can include.
1. a persistent cough or a cough that keeps getting worse, especially if you cough up blood
2. wheezing or shortness of breath
3. Chest pain
4. Unexplained weight loss
5. Fatigue

These symptoms usually occur in the later stages of the disease. The early stages of lung cancer are usually asymptomatic. This is why screening is so important if you are at risk of developing this cancer.

Should you get screened?
If you are concerned about lung cancer, there is one person you should talk to about your screening: your primary care provider. They know your health history best and can make screening recommendations based on your risk factors.

If you meet all of these criteria, ask about lung cancer screening.

• You are between the ages of 50 and 77 (age criteria may depend on your insurance company).
• You are in good health.
• You currently smoke or have quit smoking within the last 15 years.
• You have a history of smoking for 20 pack years or more. A pack year is an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, if a person smokes one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years, they may have a history of 20 pack years.

Lung cancer screening uses computed tomography (CT) scans. These scans combine multiple X-rays taken from multiple angles to get a complete picture of your lung health. The provider will then look at this image to check for any abnormalities in your lungs.

The CT scan is painless and takes only a few minutes to complete. All major insurance companies cover lung cancer screenings.

If your CT scan does reveal an abnormality, your provider may want to biopsy it. This involves taking a sample of the area of concern and testing it for cancer.