More than an estimated 160,000 people in the United States will die from lung cancer this year, making it the country's leading cause of cancer death. According to the National Cancer Institute, it surpassed breast cancer as the number one killer in women back in 1987. It causes more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined, according to the American Lung Association. Bruce Johnson, MD, the director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, sorts out the facts about lung cancer and offers simple ways to reduce risk.
1. Lung cancer targets more than just smokers
The greatest risk factor for lung cancer is smoking, but non-smokers can also development lung cancer. "Roughly 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer cases occur in non-smokers, and many of these patients are women," said Johnson. He added that it is important for everyone to know the symptoms of lung cancer, just not smokers, because detecting the cancer early can lead to better treatment outcomes.
2. Know the warning signs
Overall, cancer death rates have been dropping in the U.S., but the number of cases of women with lung cancer has been on the rise. Both men and women should know the warning signs of lung cancer. They can be subtle but symptoms to be aware of include: 1. a cough that does not go away, 2. shortness of breath, 3. back and shoulder pain, and 4. coughing up blood. This could be a sign of something serious and should be discussed with a doctor.
3. CT screenings can save lives
Lung cancer can be difficult to detect and, until recently, there has not been a good screening test. But results from the National Lung Screening Trial suggest that screening high-risk individuals with low-dose CT scans can detect tumors at an earlier stage, resulting in improved lung cancer survival. Screening is currently recommended for people who are between the ages of 55 and 74 and who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years and quit less than 15 years ago.