Understanding Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United Sates. Take action by understanding your lung cancer risk and taking appropriate measures to decrease your risk of being diagnosed. Avni Jain, MD, a family medicine physician with Adventist Medical Group, answers frequently asked questions surrounding lung cancer.
WHAT IS LUNG CANCER?
Dr. Jain: A person is diagnosed with lung cancer when abnormal cells grow inside the lung(s). These cells attack the healthy tissue and form tumors. Lung cancer is defined in two categories, small cell lung cancers (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC). Small cell is more likely to spread and grow quicker compared to non-small cell. However, small cell is less common and is mostly seen in heavy smokers.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF LUNG CANCER?
Dr. Jain: Most people who are diagnosed with lung cancer have a history of smoking. There are several factors besides smoking that can cause people to develop lung cancer. Those who are exposed to second hand smoke, asbestos, radon, or radiation are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LUNG CANCER?
Dr. Jain: Several symptoms can indicate lung cancer, but unfortunately, these symptoms rarely develop in the early stages. There are very few nerve endings in the lungs, allowing a tumor to grow without causing pain or discomfort. This is why lung cancer is often discovered at such a late stage. Symptoms of lung cancer may include:
- Persistent Cough
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Chest pain
- Frequent lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
Some symptoms of lung cancer are not related to the lungs or breathing because the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. These symptoms may include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bone pain or fractures
- Blood clots
HOW CAN I PREVENT LUNG CANCER?
Dr. Jain: In some instances, you can’t prevent lung cancer, but you can certainly decrease your risk. One of the best things you can do to lower your risk and for your overall health is to quit if you smoke and if you have never smoked, don’t start. Also discuss the dangers of smoking with your children. Other ways to lower your risk are:
- Test your home for radon
- Limit contact with secondhand smoke
- Know your family history
- Protect yourself from toxic chemicals at work
- Eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables
HOW CAN I QUIT SMOKING?
Dr. Jain: If you are looking to quit smoking but don’t know where to begin, find the reasons you smoke and avoid those situations. There are also quit therapies that contain nicotine including gum and patches. To relieve cravings, do things that take your mind off smoking like going for a walk, calling a friend, drinking water or chewing gum. Following START can help you quit:
- S – Set a quit date
- T – Tell family, friends and co-workers your plan to quit
- A – Anticipate and plan for challenges while you work towards quitting
- R – Remove cigarettes from your car, home and work
- T – Talk to your doctor about quitting assistance
Adventist HealthCare offers a smoking cessation program to help you to quit smoking cigarettes. Through the program, you will receive one-on-one over the phone counseling with a certified tobacco cessation counselor, free nicotine replacement therapy and follow up support for one year.
HOW DO YOU TEST FOR LUNG CANCER?
Dr. Jain: Discuss with your doctor if lung cancer screenings through low-dose CT scans are right for you. Screenings for lung cancer are typically offered to people 55 and older who are healthy and have smoked heavily for years.