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Your questions about lung cancer answered.
Smoking remains the leading risk factor for lung cancer, accounting for 85-90% of cases. Quitting smoking is the first step to reducing your risk for lung cancer, in addition to many other types of cancer and diseases caused by smoking. To get help quitting, click here.
However, 10-15% of lung cancer patients have never smoked. Some estimates say up to 25% of lung cancers world-wide occur in life-long nonsmokers.(1,2) Other risk factors include air pollution, radon gas, asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot, tar, and other substances. (3) Lung cancer is not just a smokers’ disease, anyone can get lung cancer.
Early lung cancer often does not cause symptoms. But as the cancer grows, common symptoms may include:
Most often these symptoms are not due to cancer. Other health problems can cause some of these symptoms. Anyone with such symptoms should see a doctor to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
Early stage lung cancer may be treated with surgery. If the tumor cannot be removed initially by surgery, a doctor may prescribe chemotherapy and radiation therapy to fight the tumor. In some cases, this treatment may eliminate the cancer cells outright or shrink the tumor enough for a surgical option. However, if the cancer is late stage, surgery may no longer be an option. A doctor may prescribe other interventions, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted therapies. For most patients with lung cancer, current treatments can extend survival but do not ultimately cure the cancer. Clinical trials may offer the best option to try new treatments that may be more effective. Your doctor can tell you if a clinical trial is an option for you, and share the risks and benefits of participating. To learn more about treatment for non small cell lung cancer, click here.
Yes! The National Lung Screening Trial showed that low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) scans could lower mortality from lung cancer by 20% in the experimental arm of the study. What does this mean? The trial compared over 53,000 study participants aged 55-74 years of age with a smoking history of at least 30 pack years. Participants were randomized to three annual screens with either low-dose helical CT scans or single-view chest X-ray. The study showed that annual CT scans lowered the number of deaths from lung cancer by at least 20%. (4,5) There are still many questions to answer – read a Q&A with UALC Medical Committee member Dr. Steven Dubinett about the study here.
We still do not know how to identify never-smokers who may be at higher risk for lung cancer. Many researchers are looking for proteins or other factors in the blood or changes to DNA that can give us an idea of whether someone is at risk for lung cancer. Ideally, we hope for a blood test that can indicate whether someone is at risk for lung cancer, followed by a low-dose CT scan to confirm. The more tests we have, the easier it will be for doctors to confirm a diagnosis of lung cancer and start treatment immediately.
Sadly, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women in 1987. In 2011, lung cancer will account for one out of four (26%) cancer deaths in women. Additionally, women who have never smoked appear to be at greater risk for developing lung cancer than men who have never smoked: of never-smokers with lung cancer, women outnumber men three to one. (6,7) UALC is funding research into understanding why women are at higher risk and developing new treatments to enable women to win their battles with lung cancer.
You are not alone. Lung cancer touches more people across the country than any other cancer, and you do not have to fight on your own. Many support groups exist to help your and your family – take advantage of all they can offer.
As a patient just diagnosed, you have many options and it is important to be educated. Your doctor will give you a few options for treatment, including participation in a clinical trial. Every new cancer therapy is tested in a clinical trial, including new drugs, new drug combinations, and new ways of doing surgery or giving radiation treatments. Your doctor can tell you if a clinical trial is an option for you, and share the risks and benefits of participating. Learn more about clinical trials here.
Also, make sure you speak with your doctor about genetic testing to see if you could benefit from a targeted therapy.
Uniting Against Lung Cancer is dedicated to raising awareness and funding innovative lung cancer research. Thanks to our many supporters, we’re helping researchers and physicians make the breakthroughs that will detect cancer lung cancer early, develop new treatments, and help patients win their battles with lung cancer and live healthy lives years after diagnosis.
Your support will help us fund the critical research needed to find a cure and bring more events to local communities, giving a voice to every patient, family and friend touched by lung cancer. Click here to donate.
Uniting Against Lung Cancer is a tax exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation with the EIN 13 419 5464.