Lung Cancer: Risks and Symptoms

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is cancer that forms in tissues of the lung, usually in the cells that line the air passages. It is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women.

There are two main types: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These two types grow differently and are treated differently. Non-small cell lung cancer is the more common type.

Who is at risk for lung cancer?

Lung cancer can affect anyone, but there are certain factors that raise your risk of getting it:

  • Smoking. This is the most important risk factor for lung cancer. Tobacco smoking causes about 9 out of 10 cases of lung cancer in men and about 8 out of 10 cases of lung cancer in women. The earlier in life you start smoking, the longer you smoke, and the more cigarettes you smoke per day, the greater your risk of lung cancer. The risk is also greater if you smoke a lot and drink alcohol every day or take beta carotene supplements. If you have quit smoking, your risk will be lower than if you had kept smoking. But you will still have a higher risk than people who never smoked.

  • Secondhand smoke, which is the combination of smoke that comes from a cigarette and smoke breathed out by a smoker. When you inhale it, you are exposed to the same cancer-causing agents as smokers, although in smaller amounts.

  • Family history of lung cancer

  • Being exposed to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, beryllium, nickel, soot, or tar in the workplace

  • Being exposed to radiation, such as from

  • Radiation therapy to the breast or chest

  • Radon in the home or workplace

  • Certain imaging tests such as CT scans

  • HIV infection

  • Air pollution

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

Sometimes lung cancer does not cause any signs or symptoms. It may be found during a chest x-ray done for another condition.

If you do have symptoms, they may include

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • A cough that doesn't go away or gets worse over time

  • Trouble breathing

  • Wheezing

  • Blood in sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs)

  • Hoarseness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Weight loss for no known reason

  • Fatigue

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Swelling in the face and/or veins in the neck


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