Lung Cancer Facts That Might Surprise You

Since it’s November, you’re probably seeing lots of messages about quitting smoking. But did you know that even people who have never smoked can also get lung cancer? Or that early detection—before symptoms develop--is key for increased chances of survival?

Like so many things about health, educating yourself about lung cancer might make all the difference to you or someone you love. Many people aren’t diagnosed with lung cancer early enough. As a result, treatment isn’t as effective as it could be, and lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in American men and women.

National Cancer Institute researchers are investigating the potential value of routine screening for people at risk, says Norman H. Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. In the meantime, Edelman offers valuable insight about this disease.

Q What are the risk factors for lung cancer?

A Smoking is the major risk factor, and about 87 percent of the people who get lung cancer are either current or former smokers. There’s also evidence that women are more sensitive to the bad effects of cigarette smoke than men are. In people who quit smoking, the risk is reduced by about one-half after 10 years of not smoking but rarely is eliminated completely. Other risk factors include exposure to secondhand smoke, radon gas and industrial products such as asbestos.

Q What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

A Unfortunately, lung cancer usually develops without symptoms. When symptoms occur, it’s almost always because the cancer has spread to an airway or another part of the lung or the body. Symptoms include a cough that doesn’t go away, coughing up blood, shortness of breath and chest pain. However, these symptoms also could be associated with dozens of other lung diseases.

Q If someone is diagnosed with lung cancer, what are the treatment options?

A When lung cancer is diagnosed early enough, surgery is the treatment of choice and cures the cancer for five years in half of all patients. Frequently, surgery is accompanied by radiation or chemotherapy, or both. If the lung cancer has spread and is inoperable, the only options are radiation and chemotherapy—and then, the average survival rate for five years drops dramatically, to 15 percent.

Q What is the best way to prevent lung cancer?

A Don’t smoke, don’t smoke, don’t smoke—and don’t let people smoke in your environment. Test your house for radon gas, and if you think you’re being exposed to something dangerous at work you should contact a regulatory agency such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Plus, if you are a smoker or have ever been a smoker, see your doctor regularly to check for problems caused by smoking. You also can talk to your doctor about possible screening options. 

Join in The Great American Smokeout on Nov. 17. Even if you just quit for the day, it may be the first step to building the confidence that will lead you to quit for good.

Lung Cancer Screening Available at GMC

Gwinnett Medical Center now offers lung cancer screenings with a low dose CT scan. This quick, painless exam can help determine if nodules or masses are present in the lungs of people who do not have symptoms of lung cancer, but may be at risk of the disease because of a history of smoking. Learn whether this screening may be right for you by calling GMC’s thoracic nurse navigator at 678-312-3189.


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