Lung Cancer


What Is It? Lung cancer is the top cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. But this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the widespread use of mechanical cigarette rollers, lung cancer was rare. Today, smoking causes nearly nine out of 10 lung cancer deaths, while radon gas, pollution, and other chemical exposures play a smaller role. Newly-developed drugs provide new hope for those diagnosed today.   Lung Cancer Symptoms Lung cancer begins in stealth mode. There are usually no symptoms or warning signs in the early stages. As it progresses, symptoms are typically non-specific and may include: 1. A cough that won’t go away. 2. Chest pain, especially during deep breaths. 3. Wheezing or shortness of breath. 4. Coughing up bloody phlegm. 5. Fatigue.   Types of Lung Cancer There are two main types of lung cancer, distinguished by the appearance of the cancer cells under a microscope. Small-cell lung cancer is the more aggressive of the two, meaning it can spread quickly to other parts of the body early in the disease. It is strongly tied to cigarette use and rarely seen in nonsmokers. Non-small-cell lung cancer grows more slowly and is more common, accounting for almost 90% of all lung cancers.   Lung Cancer Stages Staging is used to describe how far a patient’s cancer has spread. There are different systems for the two main types of lung cancer. Small-cell lung cancer is divided into two stages: “Limited” means the cancer is confined to one lung and maybe nearby lymph nodes. “Extensive” means the cancer has spread to the other lung or beyond. Non-small-cell lung cancer is assigned a stage of one through four, depending on how far it has spread.   Lung Cancer and Secondhand Smoke While smoking is the top cause of lung cancer, it is not the only risk factor. Breathing in secondhand smoke at home or at work also appears to raise your risk. People who are married to smokers are 20% to 30% more likely to develop lung cancer than the spouses of nonsmokers.   Lung Cancer and Work Exposures Certain occupations can raise the risk of lung cancer in both smokers and nonsmokers. People who work with uranium, arsenic, and other industrial chemicals should take precautions to limit their exposure. Asbestos, which was once widely used in insulation materials, is a notorious cause of lung cancer. It is rarely used now, but workers who were exposed years ago are still at risk.   Lung Cancer and Radon Gas Radon is a natural radioactive gas that occurs at higher than normal levels in certain parts of the U.S. The gas can build up inside homes and raise the risk of lung cancer, especially in people who smoke. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. About 12% of lung cancer deaths are linked to radon exposure. The gas can’t be seen or smelled, but can be detected with simple test kits.   Lung Cancer and Air Pollution While it causes far fewer cases than smoking, air pollution may contribute to the development of lung cancer. Experts believe pollution from cars, factories, and power plants may affect the lungs in a way similar to secondhand smoke. Worldwide, air pollution is estimated to cause about 5% of lung cancer deaths.   Other Risk Factors for Lung Cancer   1. A family history of lung cancer. 2. Drinking water that’s high in arsenic. Lung cancer does occur in people with no well-known risk factors – including those who’ve never smoked. Researchers don’t know the cause yet, but lung cancer in nonsmokers appears to affect more women than men. And one type, adenocarcinoma, is more common in nonsmokers than smokers.   Lung Cancer Prevention Lung cancer may be one of the deadliest forms of cancer, but it’s also one of the most preventable. In two words: don’t smoke. And if you do, get the help you need to quit. Within five years of quitting, your risk of dying from lung cancer will drop to half that of someone who smokes a pack a day. And 10 years after quitting, your odds of dying from lung cancer will be virtually the same as if you had never smoked.