This article is the part of a monthly series of stories focused on cancer issues. Denver7 is proud to partner with the American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community, Colorado Cancer Coalition and Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HealthONE to bring you these stories, tips and resources.
DENVER — Lung cancer is the leading cause of death due to cancer in America. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2019, there will be approximately 228,150 new cases of lung cancer and an estimated 142,670 deaths, with more men and women dying of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. However, the good news is that the earlier lung cancer is identified and treated, the better the odds of survival. The challenge is in finding it in its early stage, which can be difficult because most lung cancers do not cause noticeable symptoms until the disease has spread to other parts of the body.
Being aware of risk factors that might predispose you to lung cancer, and knowing some of the common signs and symptoms of lung cancer can increase the odds of it being discovered at an earlier, and potentially more treatable, stage.
Common Risk Factors
- Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, responsible for about 80-90 percent of lung cancers deaths.
- Radon, a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in soil, is another cause of lung cancer, although this is relatively uncommon contributing to an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths annually.
- Inhalation of hazardous chemicals is also linked to lung cancer. Asbestos, uranium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel and some petroleum products are especially dangerous.
- Another risk factor is particle pollution: inhaling a mix of very tiny solid and liquid particles such as exhaust smoke.
Keep in mind that lung cancer can still develop even without these risk factors present. That is why recognizing symptoms are so critical.
Lung Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Lung cancer can cause symptoms that are linked to breathing such as:
- A persistent or chronic cough that gets worse over time
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Frequent pneumonia or bronchitis
- Frequent lung infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
- Having blood in your sputum when you cough
Other symptoms more commonly appear after the lung cancer has spread. These include:
- Bone or back pain or fractures
- Swelling of the neck and face
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- New inability to control the bladder or bowel
- Seizure activity, specific weakness or numbness
- Unexplained clotting problems resulting in heart attack or stroke
If you are experiencing symptoms, talk to your doctor about screening tests such as a sputum cytology or low-dose spiral CT scan. Visit our Recommended Screening for Lung Cancers on the Sarah Cannon at HealthONE website for more information.
Additional information en Espanol can be found here. Educational resources about treatments including immunotherapy can be found here.
Reducing Your Risk for Lung Cancer
Not all lung cancers can be prevented but there are some things that can be done to reduce your risk for lung cancer:
- One way to reduce your risk for lung cancer is to not smoke and to avoid breathing in other people’s smoke.
- Reduce your exposure to radon by having your home tested.
- Avoiding and limiting exposure to known cancer-causing agents.
- Eating a healthy diet comprised of fruits and vegetables.
Quitting smoking isn’t easy and there are a variety of resources available to help people who want to quit. The American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout on Thursday, Nov. 21, is a great opportunity to start the journey towards a smoke-free life.
There are many benefits to quitting and some of those benefits, like seeing a drop in heart rate and blood pressure, can occur 20 minutes after quitting. Other benefits to quitting smoking include seeing an improvement in circulation and an increase in lung function, along with seeing the risk of certain cancers (mouth, esophagus, bladder, throat) cut in half about five years after quitting.