What is lung cancer? The most common form of lung cancer, and the most deadly, is small cell lung cancer. It accounts for 30% of all lung cancers and over 50% of all deaths from lung cancer. It grows very quickly and can spread to other parts of the body within just months after being diagnosed, making it difficult to treat once it’s advanced. Luckily, there are some actions you can take to prevent yourself from developing this type of cancer in the first place.
Lung Cancer Causes
Smoking is a major risk factor for lung cancer, as it accounts for about 90 percent of cases. However, even nonsmokers are at risk of developing lung cancer if they live or work in places where there are high levels of secondhand smoke or pollution. Other causes include radon exposure and exposure to asbestos.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
There are two general types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Symptoms of SCLC vary greatly depending on where in your lungs it develops. For instance, tumors that develop near major airways can cause symptoms similar to asthma. Those that develop near blood vessels can cause coughing or shortness of breath caused by blockage of blood flow. Regardless, SCLC tends to have symptoms that are more rapidly progressive than NSCLC does, though not all cases are so noticeable. NSCLC tends to grow more slowly than SLC does, but it’s more common — over 85 percent of lung cancers diagnosed are non-small cell in nature.
Lung Cancer Prognosis
We often talk about cancer risk factors, but another important measure of cancer is survival rate. This information gives patients a good idea of what they can expect for their specific type of cancer. According to stats from 2016, lung cancer has a relatively poor outcome with just 11% surviving at least 5 years after being diagnosed. Given these statistics, it’s clear that early detection through chest exams are especially vital when it comes to surviving lung cancer. These exams should be done every year by smokers (or those who have been exposed), or every three years for nonsmokers who are at high risk for developing lung cancer due to family history or genetic susceptibility.
How to Prevent Lung Cancer
The first step in preventing lung cancer is avoiding known risk factors. If you smoke, quitting could be one of the most important steps you can take toward preserving your health. You should also avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. These two habits are among the most well-known contributors to lung cancer risk, but there are others, including radon exposure in homes. Other lung cancer risk factors include environmental toxins, lifestyle choices (such as drinking or sun exposure), genetics, gender (male), age and race. Because these risk factors are so widespread, it’s hard for anyone—especially people without any personal or family history of lung cancer—to make absolutely sure they don’t develop it at some point in their lives.
Lung cancer stages
There are four stages of lung cancer: stage I, stage II, stage III, and stage IV. In order from least serious to most serious, these stages are divided by tumor size (how big it is), lymph node involvement (whether or not cancer has spread), where it's located in your lungs, whether or not it has spread elsewhere in your body, and if there's metastasis—cancer cells that have spread beyond your primary tumor. Lung cancer may also be categorized into low-grade or high-grade disease based on how abnormal cells look under a microscope. There isn't one specific test used for staging lung cancer because you might be diagnosed by different means depending on how advanced your disease is.