Senior Living Blog

Learn the Facts About Lung Cancer

November 24, 2020

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and in our last blog post we encouraged readers to join the “Great American Smokeout.” In this post we’ll provide some information about lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States. Every year in this country, about 221,000 cases are diagnosed, and about 146,000 people die of lung cancer.

What are the symptoms?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some people have symptoms related to the lungs. Some people whose lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized) have symptoms specific to that part of the body. Some people just have general symptoms of not feeling well. Most people with lung cancer don’t have symptoms until the cancer is advanced. Lung cancer symptoms may include:

  • Coughing that gets worse or doesn’t go away
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling very tired all the time
  • Weight loss with no known cause

Can lung cancer be treated?
Yes. Lung cancer is treated in several ways, depending on the type of lung cancer and how far it has spread. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted therapy that uses drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Who should be screened?
For people who are ages 55 to 80 and are heavy smokers (for example, one pack per day for 30 years), or for people in that age range who were heavy smokers but have quit within the last 15 years, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends getting screened every year with a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan. Screening can catch lung cancer when the tumor is still small or has not spread, offering more options for treatment.

The No. 1 way to reduce your risk
Certain things raise the risk of lung cancer. They include exposure to radon, a naturally occurring gas that can be found in houses and buildings. Other substances, such as asbestos and diesel exhaust, also raise the risk. A personal or family history of the disease is a risk factor.

But by far, the best way to reduce your risk of getting lung cancer is to quit – or never start – smoking. In the United States, smoking is linked to about 80% to 90% of all lung cancers. People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die of lung cancer than people who don’t smoke.

The presence of COVID-19 makes lung health an even more urgent concern. Cigarette smoking is a common cause of lung cancer, and according to a report from UCLA Health just this month, “most demographic studies of COVID-19 patients have indicated that current smokers are at increased risk of severe infection and death.”

Dr. Brigitte Gomperts, who led the UCLA research, said, “If you think of the airways like the high walls that protect a castle, smoking cigarettes is like creating holes in these walls. Smoking reduces the natural defenses and that allows the virus to set in.”

Even after people are diagnosed with cancer, quitting can help treatments work better, reduce the risk of the cancer returning, and improve the health and quality of life of former smokers.

Categories: Senior Health