People who think they may be at risk for developing lung cancer should talk to their doctor. The doctor may be able to suggest ways to reduce their risk and can plan an appropriate schedule for checkups. For people who have been treated for lung cancer, it’s important to have checkups after treatment. The lung tumor may come back after treatment, or another lung tumor may develop. It is hard to explain why one person can develop lung cancer and another person does not. Nonetheless, we do know that a person with certain risk factors could possibly develop lung cancer.
The following risk factors may increase the chance of developing lung cancer:
Tobacco smoke: the most important risk factor for lung cancer. Tobacco smoke causes most cases of lung cancer. Smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars can cause lung cancer and secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in nonsmokers. The more a person is exposed to smoke, the greater the chance of developing lung cancer
Radon: a radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell, or taste. It forms in soil and rocks. People who work in mines may be exposed to radon. In some parts of the country, radon is found in houses. Radon damages lung cells, and people exposed to radon are at increased risk of lung cancer
Asbestos and other substances: People who have jobs (such as those who work in the construction and chemical industries) could have a higher risk of lung cancer. Being exposed to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot, tar, and other substances can cause lung cancer. The risk is even higher for those with years of exposure
Air pollution: Air pollution may slightly increase the risk of lung cancer. The risk from air pollution is higher for smokers.
Family history of lung cancer
Personal history of lung cancer: People who have had lung cancer are at increased risk of developing a second lung tumor
Age over 65: Most people are older than 65 years when diagnosed with lung cancer
Our doctors at Choice Cancer Care may be able to suggest ways to reduce your risk and will work with you to create an appropriate schedule for checkups. For people who have been treated for lung cancer, it’s important to have checkups after your cancer treatment. The lung tumor may come back after treatment, or another lung tumor may develop.
Lung cancer in its early stages may not show symptoms. But as the tumor grows, symptoms you may experience are:
Coughing that gets worse or does not go away
Having trouble breathing, such as shortness of breath
Chest pain that does not go away
Coughing up blood
Your voice gets hoarse
Frequent lung infections, such as pneumonia
Always feeling very tired
Losing weight for no known reason
These symptoms, a majority of the time are not due to cancer. Other health problems can cause some of these symptoms. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
If you have a symptom that may be related to lung cancer, our doctors will determine whether it’s from cancer or something else. They may order blood tests or they might order one or more of the following tests:
Physical exam: Your doctor checks for general signs of health, listens to your breathing, and checks for fluid in the lungs
Chest x-ray: X-ray pictures of your chest may show tumors or abnormal fluid
CT scan: takes pictures of tissue inside the chest. These pictures could show a tumor, abnormal fluid, or swollen lymph nodes
A pathologist must check samples of cells or tissue to know if lung cancer is present. The pathologist examines the sample under a microscope and performs other tests. Our doctors may order one or more of the following tests to collect samples:
Sputum cytology: The lab checks samples of sputum, a thick fluid that is coughed up from the lungs
Thoracentesis: a long needle is used to remove fluid (pleural fluid) from the chest
Bronchoscopy: a thin, lighted tube (a bronchoscope) is inserted through the nose or mouth into the lung. This allows our doctor to exam the lungs and the air passages that lead to them. They may take a sample of cells with a needle, brush, or other tool
Fine-needle aspiration: uses a thin needle to remove tissue or fluid from the lung or lymph node
Thoracoscopy: several small incisions are made in your chest and back. The surgeon looks at the lungs and nearby tissues with a thin, lighted tube
Thoracotomy: The surgeon opens the chest with a long incision. Lymph nodes and other tissue may be removed
Mediastinoscopy: The surgeon makes an incision at the top of the breastbone. A thin, lighted tube is used to see inside the chest. The surgeon may take tissue and lymph node samples
Types of Lung Cancer
Types of lung cancer are treated differently. The most common types are named for the appearance of the lung cancer cells under a microscope:
Small cell lung cancer: A small percentage of lung cancers are small cell lung cancers. This type tends to spread quickly
Non-small cell lung cancer: Most lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancers. This type spreads more slowly than small cell lung cancer
The choice of treatment depends mainly on the type of lung cancer and its stage. People with lung cancer may have surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of treatments.
The two types of cancer treatment for lung cancer are:
Local therapy: Surgery and radiation therapy are local therapies. They remove or destroy cancer in the chest. When lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body, local therapy may be used to control the disease in those specific areas
Systemic therapy: Chemotherapy and targeted therapy are systemic therapies. The drugs enter the bloodstream and destroy or control cancer throughout the body
Our doctors can discuss your treatment options and what to expect with your results. Because cancer treatments often damage healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. Side effects depend mainly on the type and extent of your cancer treatment. Before you begin you cancer treatment, our health care team will explain all the possible side effects and recommend ways to help you deal with them. You and our doctors can work together to develop a cancer treatment plan that meets your medical and personal needs.