Lung cancer is a disease in which cells in the lungs grow abnormally and form tumors. It usually starts in the cells lining the air passages: the bronchi, bronchioles, or alveoli. It is the second most common cancer in the US and kills more people than any other type of cancer.
If you are a smoker, you are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer than if you are a non-smoker. Tobacco smoking is the cause of an estimated 90% of lung cancer cases today.
Passive or second-hand smoking is also a risk factor. Other associated factors include exposure to toxic substances such as asbestos, radon gas, or excessive diesel exhaust. If you have a family history of lung cancer or if you have had radiation therapy, you may also be vulnerable.
Early signs of lung cancer often go undetected. Lung cancer symptoms tend to show only after the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
However, if lung cancer is detected early through regular lung cancer screenings, you have a better chance of early diagnosis and successful treatment.
Loss of appetite
Shortness of breath
Chronic respiratory infection
Swollen lymph nodes
Weakness and/or dizziness associated with a compromised nervous system
Individuals who have the following risk factors are at higher risk of developing lung cancer:
A history of smoking
Exposure to carcinogenic substances
Family history of lung cancer
Aged 65 or older
Personal medical history of chronic lung-related diseases
The best way to monitor your health and that of your loved ones is to understand the early warning signs of lung cancer. Additionally, those who are in a higher-risk category should attend annual lung cancer screenings to ensure early detection.
If you experience any of the above signs or symptoms of lung cancer, speak with your doctor as soon as possible. Early detection greatly improves your chances of successful treatment and survival.
The most significant risk factor for lung cancer is smoking. Smoking in any form (e.g., cigarettes, pipes, or cigars) dramatically increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer.
People who smoke are 30% more likely¹ to get lung cancer during their lifetime than non-smokers. Lung cancer deaths are linked to smoking in 80% to 90% of cases.
Quitting smoking is the best thing a person can do to mitigate their lung cancer risk. Reducing tobacco inhalation at any time in your life will offset the impact of smoking on the lungs.
We have some degree of control over external risk factors of lung cancer, including:
Passive or second-hand smoking
Exposure to radon gas, asbestos, and other harmful chemicals and substances
Other risk factors, such as genetics and age, we cannot control.
Research shows that a family history of lung cancer may increase a person’s risk of developing the disease during their lifetime:
Inherited gene changes can be passed down from parent to child.
Acquired gene changes are not passed down but occur during an individual’s lifetime due to exposure to environmental triggers.
Age is also a prevalent factor in lung cancer diagnoses. The majority of diagnoses are made in people over the age of 65.
Research suggests that a history of chronic lung disease may increase the risk of lung cancer in later life.
There are actionable steps that you can take to manage as many controllable risk factors as possible. These include:
Cutting down or eliminating smoking and passive smoking entirely
Avoiding exposure to harmful carcinogens
Maintaining a generally healthy lifestyle in all other aspects (diet, exercise, sleep).
Whether you’re worried about your health or that of a friend or family member, it’s never too late to start taking steps to prevent lung cancer.
While diet, exercise, and certain health supplements undoubtedly contribute to general health, there is no clear evidence to suggest that eating healthily and engaging in regular physical activity actually prevents lung cancer.
Most lung cancer cases can be traced back to smoking tobacco and exposure to harmful substances, including radon gas, asbestos, chromium, arsenic, nickel, beryllium, cadmium, tar, and soot.
Smoking causes between 80-90% of all lung cancer deaths¹ in the United States. Stopping smoking at any point before a lung cancer diagnosis will reduce your risk.
Attending regular health screenings and limiting as many risk factors as possible are the best steps anyone can take to protect their health and the health of their loved ones.
If you receive a lung cancer diagnosis, your treatment options will vary based on several factors, including:
The type of lung cancer you have (small cell vs. non-small cell carcinoma)
The size, position, and advancement of the tumor
Your overall health and general wellbeing
There are various treatment options available for lung cancer patients, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and alternative treatments.
Surgery is an effective treatment for lung cancer and can include a lobectomy, pneumonectomy, and wedge resection.
A lobectomy typically involves removing one or more extensive parts of the lung called lobes.
Pneumonectomy is a type of surgery that involves removing your entire lung and is used when the cancer is in the middle of your lung or has spread throughout the lung.
Wedge resection is similar to segmentectomy (removing a section of a lobe of the lung) and involves removing a piece of the lung. This type of surgery is performed when the doctors are sure your cancer is small and restricted to one lung area.
There are various ways to treat lung cancer with radiation. The two common types of radiotherapy are radical and stereotactic radiotherapy. For microscopic tumors, stereotactic radiotherapy can be used instead of surgery.
Chemotherapy, or cancer-killing medication, can be extremely effective in treating lung cancer and is sometimes used in combination with radiotherapy.
Chemotherapy can either be used before surgery to shrink or reduce a tumor or after surgery to prevent cancer from returning. Chemotherapy can also help relieve symptoms and slow the spread of cancer when a cure is not possible.
Immunotherapy involves taking a group of medicines to stimulate your immune system to target and kill cancer cells.
Immunotherapy can be used on its own or in combination with chemotherapy.
Some alternative treatment plans for lung cancer include radiofrequency ablation, cryotherapy, and photodynamic therapy.
Radiofrequency ablation is used to treat non-small cell lung (NSCL) cancer in the early stages
Cryotherapy is used if the tumor begins to block your airways
Photodynamic therapy is used to treat early-stage lung cancer when a person is unable or unwilling to have surgery
Lung cancer used to be a near-fatal disease, but with the large-scale research and advancement in medicine, the odds of recovering from it increase by the day.
While several lung cancer treatment options are available, many often wonder how much their treatment will ultimately cost them.
There are a number of factors to be considered, including your age, the type of lung cancer you’re diagnosed with, the stage your cancer is in, the treatment options you choose in consultation with your oncologist, and even the type of health insurance you have.
For non-small cell lung cancer, the average healthcare costs range from $1,600-$8,700, with patient costs averaging between $150-$1,200.
For small cell lung cancer, the average healthcare costs range from $2,500-$8,500, with patient costs averaging between $300-$1,200.
Based on research published by the National Institutes of Health, we have broken down the total average costs of each treatment as well as the average patient costs so you can fully understand the costs of your treatment. We have also provided information on the hidden costs of lung cancer treatment and how you can reduce your expenses.
Like any cancer prognosis, lung cancer survival rates are not an exact science. Survival rates are averages based on patient data, and every individual cancer case is different.
Survival rates offer medical professionals and patients an approximate timeline to create the most appropriate treatment plan.
Lung cancer survival rates are typically measured in terms of a relative five-year survival rate. This measures the percentage likelihood that a person with lung cancer will survive five years after diagnosis compared to a person without lung cancer.
The average five-year survival rate for lung cancer patients varies depending on a range of factors, including age, sex, and the stage at which the cancer is first diagnosed and treated.
As research around lung cancer continues to advance, the best way to stay on top of your health and that of your loved ones is to have periodic cancer screenings.
It is recommended that we all limit our exposure to external risk factors, including smoking and exposure to carcinogens.
Quitting smoking any time before or after a lung cancer diagnosis is the best course of action. Even if you have already received a diagnosis, eliminating this habit will improve your lung cancer prognosis.
Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, killing more men and women than other common cancers (prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers) combined. However, early detection of the disease can dramatically improve survival rates. By spreading awareness about lung cancer, we can help at-risk populations identify early warning signs and access free or low-cost screenings.
Awareness efforts also help to raise funding for research into the prevention and treatment of lung cancer. Events like the national Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November help support those affected by a lung cancer diagnosis and educate communities about the disease.
Many organizations are working to promote lung cancer awareness, including the following, which focus on raising money for lung cancer research:
While spreading awareness about lung cancer is important, you also should be aware of your own risk. If you currently smoke or have stopped smoking within the last 15 years, are between the ages of 50 and 80, and have a 20 pack-year smoking history, you may have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. You should contact your doctor to discuss your risks.