Get the Facts About the Most Deadly Cancer
Lung cancer kills more men in the United States than any other type of cancer. Almost all lung cancers are one of two types: small cell lung cancer or non-small cell lung cancer. As you may have guessed, the main difference is the size of the cells that make up the tumor. Small-cell lung cancers are less common, but tend to grow faster and spread to other parts of the body than non-small cell cancer.
Years ago, lung cancer survival rates were not promising. However, recent improvements in treatment, along with early diagnosis, have improved the scenario, and early stage lung cancer can be successfully treated.
Are you at risk?
While several factors may increase your risk of lung cancer, it should come as no surprise that the main culprit in nine of ten cases is cigarette smoking. A man who smokes more than one pack of cigarettes per day has a 20 to 25 percent greater risk of developing lung cancer than a nonsmoker. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases your risk as well.
However, once you stop smoking, your risk gradually decreases. About 15 years after you quit, your risk drops to the same level as a nonsmoker.
Other risk factors include exposure to potential airborne cancer-causing agents including air pollution, asbestos and radon. Lung diseases such as tuberculosis may also raise your risk of cancer.
Warning signs and symptoms
About a quarter of people who develop lung cancer have no symptoms. In most cases, though, there are warning signs. Call your physician if you experience any of the following:
- Persistent cough (or a change in a smoker’s cough)
- Hoarse voice
- Coughing up blood or seeing blood in phlegm
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Pain or ache in the chest, shoulder or back
- Repeated respiratory infections like pneumonia or bronchitis
Prevention and screening
The best way to avoid lung cancer is to avoid smoking — and that includes secondhand smoke. As much as possible, minimize your exposure to carcinogenic substances such as asbestos and radon. Use a home radon test to check radon levels in your home.
- If you smoke, quit! See our tips for quitting smoking.
- Read up on the hazards of smoking.
- Ask your doctor about smoking cessation programs.
- If you are concerned about your lung cancer risk, make an appointment with your physician. For a referral, see our doctor finder or call 1-800-SCRIPPS (1-800-727-4777).