Lung cancer is a disease you’d probably rather not think about. But the more you know, the more tools you’ll have to help yourself and your loved ones prevent it. And while you likely think it’s a rare cancer today, the truth is that after skin cancer, lung cancer the most common cancer in both men and women. More importantly, it’s the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
Fortunately, we know far more today than ever before about risk factors, diagnosis and treatment. Learn about lung cancer and its risks, as well as preventive measures you can take, so you can protect yourself and your loved ones’ whole health.
Some People with Lung Cancer Can Be Cured
When lung cancer is found at an early stage, it can sometimes be cured. Newer screening tests are finding smaller lung cancers before they spread so you have a better chance of living longer.
You Can Lower Your Risks of Lung Cancer by Not Smoking
If you smoke, your risk of getting lung cancer is 20 times higher. Just a few months after you quit your lung functions improve, and after ten years your risk of dying from lung cancer has fallen by half. If you need help quitting smoking, talk with your primary care physician (PCP). Your doctor can connect you to many resources including cessation programs, workshops, support groups and resources to help you quit.
Secondhand Smoke Raises Lung Cancer Risks
Breathing smoke from someone else’s tobacco causes up to 7,000 lung cancer deaths each year. It’s especially important to keep kids away from secondhand smoke
Don’t Believe Everything You Hear or Read
Don’t fall for myths about ways you can smoke safely. For example:
- Beta carotene supplements in heavy smokers won’t help (and can actually increase your risks)
- Low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes aren’t safer than regular ones
- Vitamin E supplements don’t lower your lung cancer risks
Toxins in the Workplace Can Cause Lung Cancer
Substances such as asbestos, arsenic, diesel fumes, soot, uranium, coal products and silica can raise your lung cancer risk. And your risk further increases if you smoke. If you’ve been exposed to these substances, ask your doctor if you need to get checked for lung cancer.
Previous Radiation Therapy Can Raise Lung Cancer Risk
Radiation therapy to the chest is used to treat women after a mastectomy for breast cancer and for other conditions such as Hodgkin disease. If you’ve had this therapy, it’s important you don’t smoke since that can raise your risks even more.
Radon Can Cause Lung Cancer
Radon is a radioactive gas that happens naturally in the environment. It’s not usually dangerous outdoors, but inside it can become concentrated. People who live in homes or work in buildings with high levels of radon are more likely to get lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., and among non-smokers, it’s the leading cause.
It’s easy to test for radon in your home, and contractors can seal areas and lower radon to safe levels.
A Persistent Cough Should Signal a Doctor Visit
A cough that doesn’t go away is a common symptom of lung cancer. People with this disease may also have:
- Blood or rust-colored sputum when they cough
- Chest pain that gets worse with coughing or laughing
- Frequent lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
- Tiredness or weakness
- Weight loss
Advanced Lung Cancer Can Cause Different Symptoms
Once lung cancer spreads, the symptoms can seem unrelated to your lungs. People with advanced lung cancer may have:
- Balance problems
- Bone pain in their back or hips
- Drooping or weakness in one eyelid, along with smaller pupil in the same eye
- Headache or dizziness
- Swelling in the face, neck, arms and upper chest
In most cases, these symptoms come from something other than lung cancer. Still, it’s important to see your doctor right away if you have any of them.
Lung Cancer Screening Can Save Your Life
If you have high risks for getting lung cancer, ask your doctor about having a screening test called low-dose CT scan, or LDCT. Studies show that this screening test can save lives.