Lung cancer is one of the deadliest cancers. Each year it kills more people than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. In 2015, there will be an estimated 1,658,370 new cancer cases diagnosed and 589,430 cancer deaths in the US.
Risk Factors and Prevention
We really do not know what causes each specific case of lung cancer, but we can pinpoint consistent risk factors. Atop the list, smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. In fact, about 87 percent of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking, according to the American Cancer Society. Men and women who smoke are 25 times and 25.7 times, respectively, more likely to develop lung cancer. Smoking can shorten life expectancy by 14 years.
To be sure, sometimes people who do not smoke still get lung cancer. Second-hand smoke, air pollution, and workplace exposures to asbestos, arsenic, radioactive gas, radon and diesel exhaust can sometimes cause lung cancer. People with a parent or sibling with lung cancer also face an increased risk.
To help guard against lung cancer, doctors recommend not smoking; avoiding secondhand smoke; and taking precautions at work against harmful fumes, dust and chemicals. People ages 55-80 with a history of heavy smoking, who smoke now or who quit within the past 15 years should consider a yearly low-dose CT to screen for lung cancer. Radon detection kits can be used to test your home.
Symptoms vary from person to person. They may include coughing up blood or a cough that does not go away or worsens; chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing; hoarseness; loss of appetite; fatigue or weakness; wheezing; unexplained weight loss; shortness of breath; or infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away, or keep coming back.
Diagnosis and Treatment
To diagnose lung cancer, physicians may use a variety of tests. If cancer is confirmed, doctors conduct additional tests to learn cancer’s severity and if it has spread to other parts of the body. Patients may be treated by a team of specialists including pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and palliative physicians.
Treatment options vary depending on the stage and type of the cancer, the patient’s symptoms and overall health, and a variety of other factors. Lung cancer found at any stage may be curable with surgery and chemotherapy after surgery, and a small number of lung cancer cases that have spread to nearby organs can be cured with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Targeted therapies may be beneficial in lung cancers with certain gene mutations, which can be identified by molecular testing. Immunotherapy, radiation therapy and proton therapy are other treatment options. Clinical trials evaluating new therapies for lung cancer may be available to patients.
Patients treated with immunotherapy are given drugs that enhance the immune system. The growth of cancer cells is slowed or stopped entirely and the cancer cannot spread as a result. For lung cancer, two new immunotherapy drugs, nivolumab and pembrolizumab, were approved in October 2015 to boost the body’s ability to fight against lung cancer cells.
Lung cancer is a deadly disease. However, by taking preventive measures and working with your doctor for the best treatment options, hope is within reach.