Q: How can I detect lung cancer early?
A: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States. We tend to associate lung cancer with lifelong smokers, but as many as 65% of new lung cancer diagnoses actually occur in people who have quit smoking or have never smoked.
Lung cancer starts when abnormal cells cluster together to form a tumor in the lungs. From there, cancerous cells can spread throughout the bloodstream to other organs. The key to effective treatment is catching lung cancer in its early stages before it can do serious damage. As lung cancer reaches its later stages, high levels of chemotherapy and long-term treatments likely are necessary.
Learning the symptoms of lung cancer can help with early identification and potential treatment. Some of the most common symptoms include:
Certain people have a higher risk for lung cancer than others. Those with an immediate family member who currently has or previously had lung cancer may be more prone to developing the disease. Exposure to secondhand smoke, asbestos and radon gas has been linked to an increased risk for lung cancer. Also, about two-thirds of lung cancer diagnoses are in people age 65 or older.
While those genetic and environmental factors can affect your risk, smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. Current and former smokers may be eligible for low-dose CT scans to detect cancer in its early stages. Low-dose CT scans are quick, painless and non-invasive lung cancer screenings that involve minimal radiation. The scans provide detailed pictures of the lungs and are able to detect cancer earlier than traditional chest X-rays.
If you are a smoker, the best way to prevent lung cancer is to quit. Beyond that, there are other proactive measures that can reduce your risk for lung cancer.
Lung cancer can affect anyone. Knowing lung cancer symptoms and screening options can be essential for early detection and treatment. Talk to your doctor about your risk, and possible screenings, for lung cancer.