About Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women and men in the United States, claiming more lives each year than breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined. Nearly 225,000 people (116,000 men and 108,210 women) in the United States are expected to be diagnosed in 2016.
Small cell and non-small cell lung cancer are the most common types of lung cancer. Non-small cell is the more common of the two, making up nearly 85% of all cases, and tends to spread more slowly than small cell lung cancer. Treatment for the disease depends upon the stage and type of lung cancer, and can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and, in some cases, targeted drugs that are aimed at the particular make-up of the cancer tumor.
Unfortunately, lung cancer usually has no distinct symptoms during its earliest and most curable stages. Whenever symptoms do appear, they often include a chronic cough, coughing up blood, chest pain, hoarseness, swelling of the face or neck, or ongoing pneumonia or bronchitis. Any signs of these may warrant a visit to a physician, along with a discussion of CT screening to confirm a lung cancer diagnosis.
If you believe you are at risk for lung cancer, or think you might exhibit symptoms of the disease, please visit your healthcare provider immediately for evaluation. Early detection is the key to improving lung cancer outcomes. But unlike the mammogram for breast cancer or the PSA test for prostate cancer, the early detection for lung cancer for the general public (i.e. nonsmokers and never smokers) is less prevelant.
For individuals with a high risk for lung cancer, the United Stated Preventive Services Task Force, an independent government panel, recommends annual screening for lung cancer using low-dose CT scan. This scan is prescribed for adults aged 55 to 80, who are current smokers or former smokers who have quit within the past 15 years, and who have a 30 pack-year smoking history (1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc.). But despite the documented benefits of early detection and treatment, government and private insurance programs are not likely to provide coverage for a low-dose CT scan done for lung cancer screening.
While smoking is generally accepted as one of the most common contributing factors for lung cancer diagnoses, the larger truth is that anyone can get lung cancer, including people who never smoked. Statistics show that 18% of those diagnosed with lung cancer are never smokers, 60% are former smokers, many of whom quit decades before, and only 21% are current smokers. Obviously, the long held belief that quitting smoking eliminates the risk of lung cancer is not true. But perhaps what is even more surprising are studies which show that contrary to popular belief, only 10% of smokers will actually develop lung cancer during their lifetime.
Much more research is needed to understand why the vast majority of those with long and addictive smoking histories often avoid lung cancer, while those with limited smoking histories or entirely smoking-free histories sometimes do develop the disease. Genetic variations and environmental factors are often cited as causes for the differences, but, again, there have not been enough scientific studies to definitively pinpoint a reason.
While more treatment options are available to lung cancer patients today than five or ten years ago, these options are not nearly enough. Only 16% of lung cancer patients live five years beyond their diagnosis, compared to 99% of prostate cancer patients, 89% breast cancer patients, and 64% of colorectal cancer patients.
By increasing the recognition of lung cancer as a pandemic disease that negatively affects the health of people everywhere, whether they are smokers or not, Lung Cancer Connection is hopeful that more funding will be directed to lung research, ultimately revealing its causes and leading to vastly more effective treatments and a cure.