What every person should know about lung cancer

Published: Friday, November 18, 2022
Tracy Greer
CT Imaging Modality Manager

The American Cancer Society estimates that 236,740 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States. That includes 7,700 of our friends and neighbors here in Georgia.

While lung cancer often gets overshadowed by other forms of cancer, it is incredibly common. In fact, it’s the second most common form of cancer in both men and women—behind breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.

How much do you know about this common condition? Read on as we take a few minutes to break down the facts about lung cancer.

Who’s Affected by Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer can affect anyone of any age, but it’s more common among certain groups of people. Risk factors for lung cancer include:

  • Being age 65 and older
  • Being a current or past smoker
  • Being exposed to carcinogens such as asbestos, arsenic, nickel, soot, or tar in the work environment
  • Being exposed to radiation through radiation therapy to the breast or chest, imaging tests, or radon
  • Being exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Having a family history of lung cancer
  • Having HIV
  • Living in a highly polluted environment

Of these risk factors, smoking is the single biggest risk factor. People who smoke cigarettes are up to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who do not smoke.

What Symptoms Does Lung Cancer Cause?

In some cases, particularly in early stages, lung cancer may not cause any noticeable symptoms. But those who have lung cancer may experience a wide variety of symptoms, including:

  • Bloody mucus
  • Chest discomfort
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Facial or neck swelling
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent or worsening cough
  • Weight loss with no known cause
  • Wheezing

If you experience any of the symptoms outlined above, particularly if they linger, talk with your medical provider about how you’re feeling. Many of these symptoms can be caused by less-serious conditions, but it’s always better to have symptoms checked out.

Who Should Have Lung Cancer Screenings?

You know you should receive regular screenings for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and even skin cancer. But what about lung cancer?

While lung cancer isn’t the most common type of cancer, it is the most common cause of cancer death, causing nearly 25% of all cancer-related deaths. Since the condition doesn’t always cause symptoms, it can be important for those at the highest risk to be screened.

But because the screening test itself carries some risk, lung cancer screening isn’t recommended for everyone. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening for those who meet three specific criteria—be between 50 and 80 years old, have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history, and smoke now or have quit within the last 15 years.

What’s a pack-year? It means a person smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. Someone who smoked one pack a day for 20 years would have a 20 pack-year history—and so would someone who smoked two packs a day for 10 years.

Next Steps

If you meet the criteria for lung cancer screening, the screening itself is easy. Lung cancer screening is performed using low-dose computed tomography. During a CT scan, you will lie on a table while an X-ray machine captures detailed images of your lungs. The entire process takes only a few minutes, and afterward, you’ll have the peace of mind in knowing your health status.

Wondering whether you could benefit from a lung cancer screening? Get the details and find out how to schedule an appointment on our website.