Summary: Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the lungs, which are two spongy organs in your chest that take in oxygen when you inhale, and release carbon dioxide when you exhale. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and affects both men and women. This cancer claims more lives every year than colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancer combined. Here you can read about the signs, symptoms, causes and ways to lower your overall risk for lung cancer.
Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the lungs, which are two spongy organs in your chest that take in oxygen when you inhale, and release carbon dioxide when you exhale. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and affects both men and women. This cancer claims more lives every year than colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancer combined.
Those who smoke and use tobacco products have the greatest risk of lung cancer, though non-smokers are diagnosed with lung cancer all the time, as well. The overall risk of developing lung cancer from smoking increases with length of time and number of cigarettes or tobacco products used. Even after smoking cessation, smokers still face an increased risk for lung cancer.
The Signs and Symptoms
Lung cancer does not always show signs and symptoms for early detection. This cancer often reveals the symptoms and signs when the disease has advanced. Some of the signs and symptoms you might experience are:
- A new cough that does not go away
- Coughing up blood, even a small amount
- Dark tinged mucous expunged when coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Losing weight without trying
- Bone pain
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are a smoker, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss strategies for quitting as fast as you can. This could mean counseling, medications, or nicotine replacement products.
The Causes and Risks of Developing Lung Cancer
While smoking and use of tobacco products cause the majority of lung cancers, both in those who smoke and those who do not, it also occurs in people who have never smoked or been around secondhand smoke. These cases are not always easily determined why lung cancer developed.
A number of other factors can increase your overall risk for lung cancer. Certain factors can be controlled, like stopping smoking. Other factors cannot be controlled, like your family history. Some risk factors for lung cancer include:
- Smoking. Your risk of lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke each day and the number of years you have smoked. Quitting at any age can significantly lower your risk of developing lung cancer.
- Exposure to secondhand smoke. Even if you do not smoke, your risk of lung cancer increases if you are exposed to secondhand smoke.
- Exposure to radon gas. Radon is produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water that eventually becomes part of the air you breathe. Unsafe levels of radon can accumulate in any building, including homes.
- Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens. Workplace exposure to asbestos and other substances known to cause cancer, such as arsenic, chromium and nickel, which can increase your risk of developing lung cancer, especially if you are a smoker.
- Family history of lung cancer. People with a parent, sibling or child with lung cancer have an increased risk of the disease.
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent any cancer, including lung cancer, but there are ways that you can reduce your overall risk.
- Do not smoke. If you are not a smoker and have never picked up the habit- do not start. Talk to your children about not smoking so that they can understand how to avoid this major risk factor for lung cancer. Begin conversations about the dangers of smoking with your children early so that they know how to react to peer pressure and false ads on television.
- Stop smoking. Stop smoking now! Quitting reduces your risk of lung cancer, even if you have smoked for years. Talk to your doctor about strategies and stop-smoking aids that can help you quit. Options include nicotine replacement products, medications and support groups.
- Avoid secondhand smoke. If you live or work with a smoker, urge him or her to quit. At the very least, ask him or her to smoke outside. Avoid areas where people smoke, such as bars and restaurants, and seek out smoke-free options.
- Test your home for radon. Have the radon levels in your home checked, especially if you live in an area where radon is known to be a problem. High radon levels can be remedied to make your home safer. For information on radon testing, contact your local department of public health.
- Avoid carcinogens at work. Take precautions to protect yourself from exposure to toxic chemicals at work. Follow your employer’s precautions. For instance, if they give you a face mask for protection, always wear it. Ask your doctor what more you can do to protect yourself at work. Your risk of lung damage from workplace carcinogens increases if you smoke.
- Eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables. Choose a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Food sources of vitamins and nutrients are best. Avoid taking large doses of vitamins in pill form, as they may be harmful. For instance, researchers hoping to reduce the risk of lung cancer in heavy smokers gave them beta carotene supplements. Results showed the supplements actually increased the risk of cancer in smokers.
- Exercise most days of the week. If you do not exercise regularly, start out slowly. Try to exercise most days of the week.
That said, sometimes even doing all of the right things to live a lifestyle that lowers your overall risk for cancer, the cancer cells still find its way in. This is why educating on the signs, symptoms and behaviors that can lead to cancer can also be the very things that help to teach the patient about early detection and preventative measures.