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3 tips to prevent lung cancer and detect it early

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women. Here are 3 key tips to prevent the disease and detect it early.

November 17, 2023

Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and the leading cause of cancer death. According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of people who live at least five years after they are diagnosed with localized lung cancer (cancer confined to the site) is more than 60%. However, the number of people who live at least five years after being diagnosed with metastasized lung cancer (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body), is only 8.2%.

Unfortunately, less than a quarter of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage. That’s why it’s important to know how to prevent lung cancer and detect it in its earliest and most treatable stages.

Here are three essential tips to prevent lung cancer and detect it early.

1. Understand lung cancer risk factors

While it is very important to educate yourself about all of the risk factors associated with lung cancer, smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, linking to approximately 90 percent of lung cancer cases, according to the American Lung Association.

If you currently smoke cigarettes, pipes or cigars or have smoked in the past, you have an increased risk of lung cancer. Additionally, you may also be at risk if you have been exposed to second-hand smoke at home or in the workplace.

If you currently smoke, quitting will help reduce your risk of developing lung cancer and benefit your health in other ways. To learn more about how quitting smoking can help your health, visit Benefits of Quitting.

It is important to be aware of all of the risk factors for lung cancer. Additional risk factors include:

  • A family history of lung cancer in a first-degree relative
  • Radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Exposure to air pollution, asbestos, diesel fumes, coal dust, radon or toxic elements
  • Some treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Personal history of lung diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema, bronchitis and pulmonary fibrosis
  • Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

If you are concerned about your risk for lung cancer, take our free, confidential lung health risk assessment. Your results will be emailed to you, and there’s no further obligation.

2. Educate yourself about lung cancer screenings

Three screening tests are used to detect lung cancer, including:

  • Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) (also called low-dose spiral or helical CT scan) — Uses low-dose radiation to scan the body in a spiral path
  • Chest X-ray exam — Uses electromagnetic waves to view the organs and bones inside the chest
  • Sputum cytology — Uses a microscope to view mucus coughed up from the lungs to check for abnormal cells

With low-dose screenings, we can reduce the amount of radiation to the patient during CT exams. The American Cancer Society recommends annual lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan for certain people at high risk for lung cancer who meet the following conditions:

  • Are 50 to 80 years old and in fairly good health
  • Have at least a 20-pack per year smoking history
    • A 20-pack year smoking history could mean the following:
      • One pack per day for 20 years
      • Two packs a day for ten years

3. Know the signs and symptoms of lung cancer

Early-stage lung cancer is usually asymptomatic, meaning the person has no symptoms. Some common symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pains
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pneumonia
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite

These symptoms could also be signs of other medical issues. That’s why it is important to speak with your doctor if you experience any of these signs.

If you have any concerns or questions related to these symptoms, please know that help is available. At HCA Virginia Health System, we provide comprehensive lung cancer care, including rehabilitation services and a variety of cancer support resources. As part of Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare, our family of hospitals not only provides comprehensive cancer services, we also offer convenient access to cutting-edge therapies for people facing cancer in our communities.

Have cancer questions? We can help. askSARAH is a dedicated helpline for your cancer-related questions. Our specially trained nurses are available 24/7, and all calls are confidential. Contact askSARAH at (804) 591-4152.

It is important to know that the information in this post, including recommendations for screening, is accurate as of the publishing date. This blog was originally published on the Sarah Cannon blog in 2021 and was updated for HCA Virginia Health System in 2023.

November 17, 2023

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