When we hear of a lung cancer diagnosis, many of us might assume the patient has smoked at some point in their life. While that can often be the case, it is certainly not always.
Typically, the earliest signs of lung cancer will be symptoms. And, according to the American Cancer Society, many of the common symptoms can be caused by something other than lung cancer. Still, it’s important to know what they are, and to see your doctor to learn what the cause might be.
The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse.
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored spit or phlegm.
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing.
- Feeling tired or weak.
- Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back.
- Loss of appetite.
- New onset of wheezing.
- Shortness of breath.
- Unexplained weight loss.
While it’s always smart to be informed on symptoms, it’s just as important to understand risk factors that can contribute to lung cancer.
Having a risk factor, or even several, does not necessarily mean you will receive a lung cancer diagnosis. Alternately, there are many who get the disease who have few or no known risk factors.
Interestingly, the American Cancer Society has broken up risk factors into two groups: risk factors you can change and risk factors you cannot.
Risk factors you can change
Tobacco smoke. As mentioned before, when we discuss lung cancer, most of us probably think of smoking as the most common factor, and it’s true. The American Cancer society lists tobacco smoke as, “by far, the leading risk factor for lung cancer.”
The risk of lung cancer for someone who smokes is much higher than for those who don’t smoke, and about 80% of lung cancer deaths are thought to be the result of smoking.
Secondhand smoke. Breathing in the smoke of others, or even environmental tobacco smoke, can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. It’s also the third most common cause of lung cancer in the U.S.
Exposure to radon. In the U.S., this is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer among smokers. Radon, which is naturally occurring in radioactive gas, results from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. You can’t see, smell or taste it. Click here to learn more about radon and cancer.
Exposure to asbestos. People who work with asbestos, which can be found in mines, mills, textile plants and places where insulation is used, are several times more likely to die of lung cancer. However, it’s unclear how much low-level or short-term exposure might raise the risk of lung cancer.
Some other risks you can change are exposure to cancer-causing agents in the workplace, certain dietary supplements and arsenic in drinking water.
Risk factors you cannot change
Air pollution. This appears to raise the risk of lung cancer slightly. About 1-2% of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. are thought to be caused by outdoor air pollution.
Family history. Children, brothers and sisters of people who have had lung cancer might have a slightly higher risk of developing lung cancer, especially if their relative was diagnosed at a younger age. Additionally, if you have had lung cancer in the past, your risk of developing another lung cancer is higher.
Previous radiation therapy to the lungs. This might include people who have been treated for Hodgkin disease or women who get chest radiation after a mastectomy for breast cancer.
With all that we know, there are also factors the American Cancer Society says that have an uncertain or unproven effect on lung cancer risk, such as smoking marijuana, E-cigarettes, and exposure to talc and talcum powder.
Can lung cancer be prevented?
While there is no way to completely prevent cancer, the American Cancer Society states there are things you can do that might lower your risk, like changing risk factors that you can control. For example, stay away from tobacco, avoid radon exposure, avoid or limit exposure to cancer-causing agents and eat a healthy diet.
Because symptoms are the indicators that something might be amiss, many people don’t see a doctor until symptoms are showing, and why would they if, up to that point, there were no red flags that there was an issue?
Still, the earlier the detection, the better. A comprehensive body exam can help detect a disease long before someone shows symptoms.
Using CT technology, Advance Body Scan utilizes a cutting-edge method that provides an overall assessment of your physical health. This can establish a baseline for your general wellness, as well as catch any potential diseases that have yet to produce symptoms.
The machine captures detailed images of the chest, coronary arteries, abdomen and pelvis. Afterward, a licensed radiologist and doctor review the images to look for signs of disease or abnormalities in areas that include the:
- Prostate gland and more
During a scan, you simply lie comfortably in the scanner, which is open in design so that it doesn’t cause claustrophobia. It’s non-invasive and you don’t have to prepare in advance by fasting or stopping any medications.
To learn more about how a full body scan can help detect a wide range of health problems -- before symptoms arise -- click or tap here.