You’ve probably been warned about the dangers of smoking, and even secondhand smoke, since your elementary school days. The side-by-sides of a healthy lung with a black, smoker’s lung aim to demonstrate the toll smoking takes on you. Tobacco smoking is the main contributor to lung cancer and lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death for men.
Because men, historically, have a higher rate of smoking than women, their rates of contracting lung cancer are higher. Whether or not you are a smoker, however, you still could be at risk. Elbert Kuo, MD, chief thoracic surgeon at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center at Banner Boswell Medical Center, explains some risk factors and symptoms men should be on the lookout for.
What are the risk factors?
The main risk factors for lung cancer are the following:
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium or chemicals
- Radiation exposure, including radiation therapy to the breast or chest, and radon exposure
- Frequent exposure to air pollution
- Family history of lung cancer
- Having HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
Minimizing your exposure to harmful risk factors is important to lowering your risk of developing lung cancer in the future. Dr. Kuo tells us that if you are, or were, a smoker and you stop smoking for 10 years, you can cut your risk of developing lung cancer in half.
What are some symptoms?
Unfortunately, lung cancer is often caught in later stages because many of the symptoms mimic other respiratory illnesses like bronchitis or asthma. Other individuals may not experience any symptoms which also makes diagnosis more difficult.
It is important to pay attention to your body and recognize if you are experience something out of the ordinary. Some symptoms of lung cancer can include:
- A cough that worsens over time (without going away)
- Constant chest pain
- Arm or shoulder pain
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
- Shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness
- Repeated bronchitis or pneumonia
- Swelling of neck and face
- Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
- Feeling weak or tired
- Widening of the fingertips and nailbed
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your doctor. There are more symptoms that can arise if lung cancer spreads to other parts of the body. Regular checkups and lung cancer screenings are the best way to detect lung cancer and early detection greatly improves survival rates.
Are regular screenings recommended?
Screenings are recommended if:
- You are between 55-80 years of age.
- You have smoked 20 pack years (1 pack a day for 20 yrs., 2 packs a day for 10 yrs.).
- You are a current smoker (or former smoker who quit smoking in the past 15 yrs.).
- You are NOT currently showing symptoms but fit these criteria.
Banner MD Anderson now offers a lung cancer screening program for smokers, or those who used to smoke, that is typically covered by insurance with no copay or deductible.
How often should I be screened?
Frequency of screenings is determined during your first screening. Each lung cancer screening is scored into a Lung-RADS (lung imaging reporting and data system) numbered 1 through 4 with 4 being where the most frequent screenings are recommended.
Lung-RADS 1 and 2:
- Should get lung screenings annually.
- Follow-up determined after tumor board (group of doctors with different specialties that meet regularly to share knowledge and discuss cancer cases). These patients usually have a follow-up CT in 6 months as the radiologist saw a nodule, but it was probably benign (not cancer).
- Follow-up determined after tumor board and can follow-up with a PET/CT, biopsy or a CT in monthly intervals.
The most important step you can take to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking. See your doctor to help you look at options for quitting or if you are experiencing symptoms of lung cancer.
For more information on lung cancer screenings, visit: bannerhealth.com.
Updated: This article was updated on October 8, 2021.