Lung cancer: Information that could save your life
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer for both men and women (after prostate and breast). According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 236,740 new cases will be diagnosed this year.
More people die every year from lung cancer than from colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. But there are steps you can take to lower your risk and increase the chances for successful treatment.
Lung cancer: What you need to know
Knowing more about lung cancer causes, symptoms and early signs of the disease can help keep you from becoming another statistic. "The key to beating lung cancer is diagnosing and treating it early," says Sentara thoracic surgeon Dr. Raffaele Marchigiani, thoracic surgeon with Sentara Surgery Specialists. "If lung cancer is found at an earlier stage when it is small and before it has spread, people have a better chance of living longer."
Types of lung cancer
There are three types of lung cancer:
- Non-small cell lung cancer: When people talk about lung cancer, they're most likely referring to this type. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type, accounting for about 85 percent of lung cancer cases.
- Small cell lung cancer: The second most common type, this lung cancer typically spreads more quickly than other kinds. It accounts for 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer cases.
- Neuroendocrine tumor: The third type is rare, affecting less than 5 percent of patients. It can range from a slow-growing typical carcinoid to a more aggressive atypical carcinoid.
If you smoke, quitting now is crucial
Smoking is the number one cause of cancer. An estimated 80 percent of lung cancer deaths can be attributed to smoking. But quitting can change those odds quickly.
One study found that within five years of quitting, formerly heavy smokers had a 39 percent lower risk of lung cancer than those who were still smoking. And the risk keeps decreasing with every year you continue to avoid cigarettes.
Not all lung cancer is caused by smoking
An estimated 10 to 20 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. Even though smoking remains the top cause of lung cancer, there are several other potential causes.
Genetics can play a role in increasing your risk of lung cancer. If a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) had the disease, talk your doctor about regular screenings.
Several other carcinogens can also cause lung cancer. You can reduce your risk by minimizing exposure to:
- Secondhand smoke
- Diesel exhaust
- Air pollution
Know the early signs of lung cancer
Lung cancer is most easily treated when doctors diagnose it early. "Lung cancer is often not diagnosed until it has spread, so it's important to stay alert to possible early signs," say Dr. Marchigiani.
If you notice any of these early lung cancer symptoms, talk to your doctor:
- A persistent cough that doesn't go away even when you're not feeling sick
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Recurring bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis
Lung cancer screening is quick and painless
If your history puts you at a higher risk for lung cancer, talk to your doctor about the latest screening tests. Doctors may recommend screening if you have a parent or sibling with lung cancer, have been a smoker or have other risk factors.
While lung cancer is a deadly disease, early detection can increase the chance of successful treatment and survival. A recent study found that low-dose CT scans are one of the best ways to spot early-stage lung cancer. This noninvasive imaging test scans the entire chest for any signs of cancer.
Sentara offers low-dose CT lung screening to help find lung cancer early. To learn more and find out if you qualify, visit Sentara.com/screenmylungs.
By: Raffaele J. Marchigiani, M.D., Sentara Surgery Specialists