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Lung Cancer Signs, Symptoms, and Facts
Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world, with 2.1 million new cases occurring each year. Approximately 541,000 Americans living today have been diagnosed with lung cancer at some point in their lives.1
Here’s how lung cancer affects the body, the signs of lung cancer, and what puts you at risk for it.
What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is when the cells in your lungs grow out of control. It can begin in the lungs and spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes or organs such as the brain.2
Lung Cancer Signs and Symptoms
There are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer.
Here are some of the most common lung cancer symptoms according to the NHS:3
- A persistent cough that lasts 2-3 weeks
- Aches or pains when breathing
- Loss of breath
- Lack of energy
- Coughing up blood
- Chest infections
Risks for Lung Cancer
There are many factors that can determine your current risk for developing lung cancer. Here are a few reasons that you might be at risk for lung cancer:4
- Smoking: This is the number one cause of lung cancer. Your risk of lung cancer increases with the more cigarettes you smoke each day.
- Secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is linked to causing lung cancer.
- Genetics. Your family history can determine your risk for lung cancer. For example, if someone in your immediate family has lung cancer, your chances of being diagnosed with it are higher.
- Exposure to radon gas, asbestos, or other carcinogens. Breathing in harmful chemicals can increase your chance of lung cancer.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy treatments have been linked to increasing your chances of lung cancer.
If you think that you might be at risk for developing lung cancer, consult with a doctor to discuss your medical concerns.
Types of Lung Cancer
There are two different types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer.
Non-small cell lung cancer
Non-small lung cancer grows and spreads slower than small cell lung cancer. It is the most common type of lung cancer.5
There are 3 types of non-small cell lung cancer:
- Adenocarcinoma. This is the most common type of cancer that affects the organs, including the lungs. Adenocarinoma develops in the glands that line your cells and can create tumors as it grows. About 40% of non-small lung cancers are adenocarcinoma. Smoking, toxin exposure, and radiation therapy can put you at a higher risk for developing adenocarcinoma.6
- Large cell carcinomas. These are large cancer cells when viewed underneath a microscope. These tend to develop on the outer sides of the lungs and begin spreading throughout the respiratory system. Smoking, exposure to radon, and gene mutations are all causes of large cell carcinomas.7
- Sqaumous cell carcinoma. This type of lung cancer begins in the squamous cells, which are flat cells that line the airways of the lungs. This type of cancer usually begins near the main airway, also known as the bronchus. This type of cancer is also linked to smoking.8
Small cell lung cancer
Small cell lung cancer is a fast-growing lung cancer that grows inside of the lung tissue. It is estimated that 10-15% of lung cancer cases are small cell lung cancer.9
The most common type of small cell lung cancer is small-cell carcinoma, which are cancer cells that look like oats under the microscope. It is usually found in the lung’s central airways and causes the bronchial airways to narrow. Some lung cancer symptoms caused by small-cell carcinoma include coughing, fatigue, feelings of weakness, shortness of breath, and weight loss.10
People who smoke are generally at risk for this type of lung cancer, but those with a risk for lung cancer can also develop it.11 Secondhand smoking is also a risk for small cell lung cancer, and those living with a smoker have a 30% increased chance.9
Lung Capacity and Lung Cancer
Your lung capacity – which is the amount of air that you can hold – is about 3 liters, which is about the size of 3 large soda bottles. Lung capacity matures between the ages of 20-25, and after the age of 35 your lung capacity will decrease over time.12
A sudden shift in your lung capacity can be directly caused by lung cancer. That’s because lung cancer can be caused by a variety of factors that put you at risk for shortened breath and breathing difficulties.
Some ways lung cancer can change your lung capacity include:13
- Fluid buildup in the lungs. Some types of lung cancer have cells that attack the space between the lungs and the chest wall, which is known as the pleural space. As fluid builds up around the lungs, it’s harder for the lungs to expand and process oxygen.
- Blocked airways. Lung tumors can block airways, which narrows the passage where oxygen can travel. This can cause your breath to become shorter and makes it harder for oxygen to travel in and out.
- Low levels of oxygen in blood. Lung cancer can decrease your body’s red blood cells, which play a key role in transporting oxygen to the rest of the body.
Ways to Prevent Lung Cancer
Even though smokers are most at risk for developing lung cancer, 10-15% of lung cancer cases are those who never smoked. Here are a few ways that you can reduce your risk of lung cancer:14
- Don’t smoke
- Avoid secondhand smoke
- Eat a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables
- Limit alcohol
- Exercise regularly
- Get lung cancer screenings if you are at risk
- Reduce exposure to carcinogenetic agents including arsenic, asbestos, nickel, and soot
- Check your home for exposure to radon
Learn More about Lung Cancer
During Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Saber Healthcare encourages you to learn more about lung cancer and how you can recognize it. To learn more about how lung cancer affects the body, visit the American Lung Association website.
Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “Lung Cancer Fact Sheet.” American Lung Association, lung.org. 27 May 2020. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/resource-library/lung-cancer-fact-sheet#:~:text=Approximately%20541%2C000%20Americans%20living%20today,some%20point%20in%20their%20lives.&text=During%202018%2C%20an%20estimated%20234%2C030,percent%20of%20all%20cancer%20diagnoses.
- “What is Lung Disease?” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 18 October 2021. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/what-is-lung-cancer.htm
- “Lung Cancer Symptoms.” NHS. 15 August 2019. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lung-cancer/symptoms/
- “Lung Cancer.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). 23 March 2021. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lung-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20374620
- “Lung Cancer Types.” The Johns Hopkins University, John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lung-cancer/lung-cancer-types
- “Adenocarcinoma Cancers.” Cleveland Clinic. 30 July 2021. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21652-adenocarcinoma-cancers
- Eldridge, Lynne. Doru, Paul, ed. “What Is Large Cell Lung Carcinoma?” Dotdash, VeryWellHealth. 19 September 2021. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.verywellhealth.com/large-cell-carcinoma-of-the-lungs-2249356
- “What Is Lung Cancer?” American Cancer Society. 1 October 2019. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/about/what-is.html
- Ratini, Melinda. “Small-Cell Lung Cancer.” WebMD. 28 July 2020. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.webmd.com/lung-cancer/small-cell-lung-cancer
- “Small Cell Carcinoma.” Beaumont. 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.beaumont.org/conditions/small-cell-carcinoma
- “Small Lung Cell Cancer.” Cleveland Clinic. 12 October 2021. 9 November 2021. Link: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/6202-small-cell-lung-cancer
- “Lung Capacity and Aging.” American Lung Association, lung.org. 27 May 2020. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/how-lungs-work/lung-capacity-and-aging
- “Manage Shortness of Breath with Lung Cancer.” The Johns Hopkins University, John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lung-cancer/manage-shortness-of-breath-with-lung-cancer
- Eldridge, Lynne. Doru, Paul, ed. “10 Tips for Lung Cancer Prevention.” VeryWellHealth. Last Updated 21 July 2021. Accessed 9 November 2021. Link: https://www.verywellhealth.com/tips-for-lung-cancer-prevention-2249286