Today lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in men and women. About 150,000 Americans die from lung cancer each year, and more than 85 percent of them can thank cigarettes for the disease. In less than a decade, lung cancer deaths for white females have increased 60 percent, replacing breast cancer as the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women. Besides cigarette smoke, the risk for getting lung cancer increases with exposure to asbestos or other carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). One of these is radon, a radioactive gas. High levels of radon are found in underground uranium mines. Much lower levels can build up in some homes.
Lung cancer is especially deadly because the rich network of blood vessels that deliver oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body can also spread cancer very quickly. By the time it’s diagnosed, other organs may be affected.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of lung cancer include:
- Chronic cough
- Blood-streaked sputum
- Shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort with each breath
- Weight loss
Prevention and Treatment
Lung cancer is difficult to detect in its early, more treatable stages, so the best way to combat the disease is to prevent it. To help prevent lung cancer:
- Don’t smoke. The risk of developing lung cancer is proportional to the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Also, the longer a person smokes and the more deeply the smoke is inhaled, the greater the risk of getting lung cancer. Avoid secondhand smoke.
- Avoid or limit exposure to environmental pollutants and asbestos
- Have your home tested for radon. This can be done with a home testing kit, or by a professional.
Treatment for lung cancer includes one or more of the following:
- Tests to determine the type of lung cancer present and the stage of the disease
- Surgery to remove a small part of the lung, an entire lobe of the lung, or the entire lung. Respiratory therapy is generally given after surgery.
- Radiation therapy