August 1 is World Lung Cancer Day, a day aimed at raising awareness about the causes and treatment of lung cancer and the importance of early detection through lung cancer screening. It is especially important to encourage education around the prevention and treatment of lung cancer, as it is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the U.S. To share more insight on this disease, Cindy Vu, NP, with Dignity Health Medical Group — Dominican has provided important information on lung cancer symptoms, screening and treatment.
Who is at Risk
Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. According to the CDC, cigarette smoking in the U.S. is linked to about 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths. However, Nurse Vu does note that there are a small number of cases of nonsmokers who develop lung cancer, such as those who are exposed to extensive secondhand smoke.
Others at increased risk include lung cancer survivors who continue to smoke and those with a history of lung cancer in their family. Additionally, environmental factors such as exposure to asbestos and radon (a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt, which can get trapped in houses and buildings) can also cause lung cancer.
Reducing the Risk
The number one way to lower the risk of lung cancer is to not smoke or to quit smoking. Other ways to reduce risk include avoiding second hand smoke from other people’s cigarettes, cigars, or pipes and to avoid carcinogens in the environment as best you can.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Nurse Vu shares that oftentimes there are no signs or symptoms of lung cancer, especially in the early stages. Generally, lung cancer symptoms can include coughing up blood, difficulty breathing, fever, loss of appetite and weight loss with no known reason. However, keep in mind that different people will have different symptoms and these symptoms can occur with other illnesses too. It is important to talk to your doctor if you experience any of these conditions and get checked out.
Lung Cancer Screening
When it comes to screening, there is no age-based requirement or guideline. Nurse Vu explains that if you have certain risk factors, such as tobacco use, then screening should start at age 50. As with all diseases, early screening can catch lung cancer in its early stages, making it easier to treat. The later it is detected, the more time the cancer has to spread to other parts of the lungs and other organs in the body.
For those who are eligible to be screened, the CDC states that the only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT). During an LDCT scan, patients lie on a table and an X-ray machine uses a low dose of radiation to make detailed images of your lungs and your physician will look for cancer-like spots. The scan only takes a few minutes and is not painful.
There are a number of treatments available for lung cancer depending on the type of lung cancer and how far it has spread. The two main types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, in reference to what the cancer cells look like under a microscope. Your physician will help determine which treatment option is best depending on the type of lung cancer. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and a combination of these treatments.
The bottom line — the most important thing to do in order to reduce your lung cancer risk is to not smoke or quit if you are a smoker. We encourage everyone to continue to educate themselves and spread awareness of lung cancer risks and prevention to their loved ones in an effort to protect everyone’s overall health.