Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women (not counting skin cancer) and is the leading cause of cancer deaths, with 25% of all deaths from cancer being from lung cancer. More people die annually of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. While these numbers seem staggering, the good news is that the number of new lung cancer cases continues to decrease, thanks in part to people quitting smoking and education efforts on the dangers of smoking. Advances in early detection and treatments have also helped to improve the survival rate.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
Lung cancer doesn’t always show signs or symptoms in the early stages. If lung cancer symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Shortness of breath
- A cough that doesn’t go away or a change in a chronic cough
- Coughing up blood, even a small amount
- Chest pain or wheezing
- Joint pain
- Weight loss
Lung Cancer Risk Factors
Increased risk for lung cancer has been linked to:
- Tobacco use: Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, pipes or cigars) as well as chewing tobacco is linked to over four out of five cases of all lung cancers. Heavy smokers and those who began smoking at a young age are at an increased risk of developing the disease. It is possible to significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer if you stop smoking. CentraState offers a Smoking Cessation program to help.
- Second-hand smoke: Even if you don’t smoke, you may be at an increased risk for developing lung cancer if you are exposed to tobacco smoke.
- Radon gas: A naturally occurring odorless gas, high levels of radon may be found in some houses or buildings. The EPA considers exposure to radon gas as the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Kits are available to test for radon in your home or office.
- Asbestos: Long-term exposure to asbestos is linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. Miners, mill workers or people who may have breathed in asbestos fibers are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer.
- Industrial or workplace exposures: Inhaling chemicals or minerals, such as asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot or tar may overtime increase a person’s lung cancer risks. Workers in certain manufacturing or mining industries may have an increased exposure to these chemicals. Diesel exhaust and air pollution may also be harmful.
- Family history: A family history of lung cancer may increase your lung cancer risks.
Lung Cancer Diagnosis & Staging
If you are high-risk for lung cancer, your physician may recommend a low-dose CT scan, which is one of the best tools we have to diagnose lung cancer early. You may also find that you have a lung nodule if you’ve had a chest x-ray or other scan for an illness or injury unrelated to cancer. If your physician suspects lung cancer from these or other imaging tests, your physician will use additional tools to evaluate the disease (known as staging) and develop a treatment plan. These tests may include:
A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is often used with a computed tomography (CT) scan for patients with lung cancer if your doctor thinks the cancer might have spread. These images show spread of cancer to bones, liver, adrenal glands, or other organs.
The actual diagnosis of lung cancer is made by looking at cells from the lungs under a microscope. These cells are collected in a variety of ways: from mucus you cough up from the lungs (known as a sputum cytology), fluid removed from the area around the lung (thoracentesis), or through a needle biopsy. Your physician will determine which test based on the situation.
Once diagnosed your physician will want to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other areas. This determination may affect treatment options. Tests to see if lung cancer has cancer spread includes: endobronchial ultrasound or endoscopic esophageal ultrasound to look at lymph nodes, or a thoracoscopy to find out if cancer has spread to the spaces between the lungs and the chest wall, or to the linings of these spaces.
Pulmonary function tests are often done after lung cancer is diagnosed to see how well your lungs are working. This is important to determine your treatment plan and give the surgeon an idea of whether surgery can be included in the plan. Lung cancer surgery often requires the removal of a portion of the lung and some people with poor lung function (such as smokers with lung damage) don’t have enough undamaged lung to withstand removing even part of a lung.