Usually, the common cold or cough turns out to be nothing serious. But if you have been putting up with a cough for more than a few weeks, it may be time to see your doctor. Although the chronic cough is often a symptom of an allergy or a condition such as bronchitis, it could be one of the warning signs of lung cancer.
Who Is at Risk for Lung Cancer?
The most significant risk factor for lung cancer is smoking. Up to 90% of all lung cancers are thought to result from smoking. And it’s not just cigarette smoking. Daily cigar smoking also greatly increases risk. In addition, nonsmokers who are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke face an increased risk.
Other risk factors are:
- Exposure to asbestos, radon or ionizing radiation
Lung scarring from chronic infections
- Family history of lung cancer
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer typically does not cause symptoms in its early stages. The cancer is often advanced when symptoms do occur. These symptoms may also be signs of many other lung problems, so be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience any of these.
- Persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Recurrent pneumonia or bronchitis
- Chest pain
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Bloody or rust-colored spit or phlegm
- Fever without a known cause
There is good news about lung cancer: It is potentially one of the most preventable cancers. Because smoking is its main cause, the best way to prevent lung cancer is simply to stay out of the smoke. Even if you have smoked for decades, stopping now can reduce your risk of developing lung cancer. Quitting also improves your chances of living longer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Other methods of prevention include:
- Make healthy food choices
- Eat foods high in fiber - try to increase the amount of fiber in your diet to between 20 and 30 grams daily. High-fiber foods include whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Limit processed foods, sweets and salt.
- Avoid foods high in saturated fats.
- Eat 5 of more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Choose foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Don't overeat.
- Watch portion size and calories.
- Limit sweets.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Limit the amount of alcohol - wine, beer or mixed drinks - to less than one drink per day, or avoid it completely.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Engage in regular physical activity, preferably 45 to 60 minutes five days per week.
- Don't smoke.
- Get regular check-ups and talk to your doctor about regular cancer screenings.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. If you smoke, quit now. Treatment is most effective when lung cancer is diagnosed early. Talk to you doctor if you think you may be at risk for developing the disease.
- Smoking (cigarettes, cigars, pipes) - Risk increases with how long you have smoked and the number of cigarettes smoked each day. Quitting at any age can significantly lower your risk.
- Secondhand smoke - Risk may increase with daily exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Exposure to radon - An invisible, tasteless, odorless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in ground soil and rocks, radon can seep into lower floors of homes and other buildings, and can also contaminate drinking water. Radon home test kits can be purchased at most hardware stores.
- Exposure to asbestos - Asbestos is used in home insulation, car brake linings and other products. This naturally occurring fiber can break into particles that float in the air and stick to clothing. Asbestos exposure and inhalation can increase your risk.
- Family history - Studies have shown a genetic link to lung cancer. Whether you smoke or not, risk increases is you have a parent or sibling with lung cancer.
The Importance of Early Detection
As with other types of cancer, early detection increases a patient’s chance of survival. Unfortunately, lung cancer is difficult to detect in its earliest stages, and it often is not discovered until it has spread to other tissues or organs.
Diagnostic tools include:
Used to look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for abnormal areas, a bronchoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted through the nose or mouth into the trachea and lungs. Tissue samples may be taken for biopsy.
Under anesthesia, a tube is passed through a small incision at the base of the patient's neck. Lymph nodes in the chest are biopsied. This procedure helps doctors to stage the tumor and determine if surgery is an option.