November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month
Lung Cancer Awareness Month
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and the second-most common cancer among both men and women. Yet, many believe that only certain types of people, smokers, can get lung cancer.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Get the facts about the disease and share the information you've learned with the people you love.
What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the lungs, often in the bronchial tubes or the alveoli, the small sacs that line the lungs. The cancer causes cells in the lungs to grow faster than usual or in an out-of-control manner. It's possible for lung cancer to spread to other organs if it's not detected early.
In 2021, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 235,760 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed and that 131,880 people will die from the disease1. Every year, lung cancer accounts for one-quarter of all deaths from cancer, meaning that more people die from lung cancer than from breast, prostate, and colon cancer combined.
Although the stats about lung cancer are grim, there is a silver lining. As more people quit or never start smoking, lung cancer cases are dropping. Early detection and screening are also contributing to lower mortality rates from the disease.
Are There Different Types of Lung Cancer?
There are two primary types of lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is by far the most common of the two, accounting for up to 85% of cases2. There are several sub-types of non-small cell lung cancer:
● Squamous cell carcinoma
● Large cell carcinoma
Each type starts in a different part of the lungs, but the treatment is usually the same for each one.
The other type of lung cancer is small cell lung cancer, which occurs in about 15% of cases. Small cell cancer grows and spreads more quickly than the other types but also typically responds well to cancer treatment2.
Who Is at Risk for Lung Cancer?
Anyone can develop lung cancer but certain factors do increase the risk for the disease. Smoking is the most significant risk factor for lung cancer. While non-smokers can develop cancer in their lungs, people who have a history of smoking are up to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who never smoked3.
No matter how long a person has smoked, quitting can cut their risk for lung cancer considerably.
Another risk factor for lung cancer is exposure to radon, an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas. Radon can seep into homes from the surrounding soil and rocks. You can test your home for radon and perform remediation measures if the tests show high radon levels.
Exposure to other inhaled substances, such as asbestos and diesel fumes, can also increase a person's risk for lung cancer.
What Are Symptoms of Lung Cancer?
Symptoms of lung cancer often don't appear until the disease has progressed. In many instances, a person is diagnosed with lung cancer during a screening for another medical condition. When symptoms do develop, they often include:
● Coughing (sometimes coughing up blood)
● Chest pain
● Feeling short of breath
● Feeling fatigued
● Weight loss without a cause
How Do You Treat Lung Cancer?
Treatments for lung cancer depend on the type of cancer and the stage of cancer. A person's health can also influence their treatment options.
Usually, small cell lung cancer is treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Both therapies aim to destroy the cancer cells, either by exposing the cells to high levels of chemicals or high-energy rays. Non-small cell lung cancer is also often treated with chemo or radiation therapy but might be treated with targeted therapy or surgery.
During targeted surgery, a patient takes medication that inhibits the spread and growth of the cancer cells. If surgery is an option, a doctor will remove cancerous cells from the lungs.
Treatment is often effective, particularly if the cancer is caught early and treated before it spreads to other parts of the body.
Can You Detect Lung Cancer Early?
Screening people who have an increased risk for lung cancer, such as people with an extended history of cigarette smoking, helps physicians detect cancer early when it is easier to treat. If you have a history of smoking or other risk factors for lung cancer, talk to your doctor to find out when, and if, they recommend lung cancer screening.
1. Lung Cancer: Key Statistics, American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
2. What is Lung Cancer? American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/about/what-is.html
3. What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/risk_factors.htm