There are a variety of risk factors associated with lung cancer and those who are considered higher risk should be screened routinely.
The risk factors associated with lung cancer include:
Smoking. This is, by far, the most crucial risk factor for developing lung cancer. Smoking of any kind – cigarettes, cigars, and pipes – or even the proximity to secondhand smoke, can dramatically increase the risk of developing lung cancer and that risk increases with the amount of time you are exposed to tobacco smoke of any kind.
Ongoing Exposure to Air Pollution. It has been shown that consistent exposure to air pollution has the potential to slightly increase the risk of developing lung cancer and the risk increases for smokers.
Radon Exposure. Those exposed to radon, an invisible radioactive gas that is without smell or taste that damages the cells in the lungs, are at higher risk for developing lung cancer. Radon is formed in rocks and soil and it can be found in mines as well as in houses in some parts of the country.
Family History of Lung Cancer.
Age. Those over the age of 65 are at greater risk of developing lung cancer.
Exposure to Asbestos and Other Chemicals. Ongoing exposure to asbestos, tar, arsenic, nickel, soot, chromium, and other potentially harmful materials – many of which can be found in the chemical and construction industries – can increase the risk for developing lung cancer.
Personal History of Lung Cancer. Those who have received treatment for lung cancer must remain vigilant about their follow-up screenings to guard against a redevelopment of the tumor and a recurrence of the cancer for which they are at increased risk.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
The earlier stages of lung cancer may not produce any symptoms but as the tumor grows and the cancer develops, some symptoms may start to appear such as:
- Unresolved coughing that gets worse.
- A cough that produces blood.
- Continuous chest pain.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Shortness of breath and/or trouble breathing.
- Recurrent lung infections including pneumonia.
- Ongoing and pronounced fatigue.
While many of these symptoms can be attributed to something else and don’t necessarily signify the presence of cancer, it’s important to see a doctor if you are experiencing any of the above. Your doctor can assess your symptoms, conduct a physical exam to assess overall health, examine your breathing, and check for any fluid in your lungs. If your doctor decides, based on this examination, that further tests are in order, he may order blood work, as well as other diagnostic tests such as a chest x-ray or CT scan that will produce images of any tumors, abnormal fluid, or swollen lymph nodes.
Other tests may include:
- A sputum cytology to examine samples of the thick fluid that is coughed up from the lungs known as the sputum.
- A bronchoscopy during which a tube is inserted into the chest through the mouth or nose so that the doctor can examine the lungs and take any needed cell samples.
- A mediastinoscopy during which a surgeon makes an incision at the top of the chest bone and a thin tube – with a light – is navigated into the chest where lymph node and tissue samples can be taken.
- A thoracotomy during which the chest is opened with a long incision and the surgeon is able to remove tissue samples and lymph nodes.
- A thoracosopy during which the surgeon examines the lungs and neighboring tissues with a thin, lighted tube inserted through several tiny incisions in the back and chest.
- A fine-needle aspiration during which fluid and/or tissue is removed from the lymph nodes or lungs through a thin needle.
- A thoracentesis during which fluid from the lungs is removed through a long needle inserted into the chest.
Types of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer cells are examined under a microscope to determine if they are small cell lung cancer or non-small cell lung cancer. This helps determine treatment.
Small cell lung cancer is a fast spreading cancer and the smaller percentage of diagnosed lung cancers.
Non-small cell lung cancer is the predominately diagnosed lung cancer and is a slow spreading disease.
Lung Cancer Treatment
Treatment for lung cancer can be local – such as surgery or radiation – during which cancer cells are targeted in specific areas or systemic – as with chemotherapy and targeted therapy – where drugs are introduced to help eradicate cancer cells throughout the entire body. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend a combination of multiple treatments.
Most important is working with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that speaks to your diagnosis as well as your individual needs.