Things you should know about lung cancer and how to help prevent it
Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer and the leading cause of death related to cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, 5-year survival rates vary greatly from as high as 60% to as low as 6% depending on the location and behavior of the cancer.
If the lung cancer is confined to a single location within the body (localized), nearly 60% of people see the 5-year survival milestone. If the cancer has spread to other areas (metastasized), the chances of survival drop drastically to less than 6%.
Diagnosis of lung cancer early on improves the chances that the cancer remains localized before having the time to metastasize, spreading throughout the body. Unfortunately, less than a quarter of all lung cancer cases are being diagnosed at an early stage.
As with any type of cancer, early detection is key. Here are three things you should know to about lung cancer, how to prevent it and more.
Understand risk factors
While it is very important to educate yourself about all of the risk factors associated with lung cancer, one factor in particular contributes to the majority of lung cancer diagnoses. According to the American Lung Association, smoking can be linked to approximately 90 percent of lung cancer cases, making it the leading cause of lung cancer.
If you currently smoke cigarettes, pipes or cigars (even "light" cigarettes) or have smoked in the past, you have an increased risk of lung cancer. Additionally, you may also be at risk if you have been exposed to second-hand smoke at home or in the workplace.
If you currently smoke, quitting will help reduce your risk of developing lung cancer and benefit your health in other ways.
Although smoking is the leading risk factor, it is important to be aware of all of the risk factors for lung cancer. Additional risk factors include:
- A family history of lung cancer in an immediate relative like your parents, siblings or grandparents
- Radiation therapy to the breast or chest
- Exposure to air pollution, asbestos, diesel fumes, coal dust, radon or toxic elements
- Some treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma
- Personal history of lung diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema, bronchitis, and pulmonary fibrosis
- Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
Educate yourself about screening
There are three screening tests that have been used to detect lung cancer, including:
- Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) (also called low-dose spiral or helical CT scan), uses low-dose radiation to scan the body in a spiral path
- Chest X-ray to view the organs and bones inside the chest
- Sputum cytology tests the lung secretions, phlegm/mucus, under a microscope to check for cancer cells
Our partners at Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare, recommend LDCT for adults, ages 55-77, who are current smokers or those who have quit within the past 15 years and who have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history.
To calculate your pack-year, multiply the number of cigarette packs per day by the number of years you have smoked:
- 1 pack/day x 30 years = 30 pack-year history
- 2 packs/day x 15 years = 30 pack-year history
Know the signs and symptoms
Early stage lung cancer is usually asymptomatic, meaning the person has no symptoms. Some common symptoms of lung cancer include:
- A persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pains
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
These symptoms could also be signs of other medical issues. So, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider if you experience any of these symptoms.