5 facts smokers and nonsmokers should know about lung cancer

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Dr. Ghulam Abbas

It’s one of the most preventable forms of cancer, yet one in four cancer deaths is caused by lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 155,000 deaths from lung cancer will occur this year. WVU Cancer Institute thoracic surgeon Ghulam Abbas, MD, gives you the facts about lung cancer and prevention. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

1. Tobacco use is the main cause of lung cancer.
Tobacco smoke is made up of more than 7,000 chemicals, including at least 70 that are known to cause cancer. In addition to lung cancer, tobacco use, including cigar smoking and smokeless tobacco, puts you at risk for other forms of cancer, including bladder, esophageal, head and neck, throat, and stomach. Make an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss a quit plan if you’re a tobacco user.

2. Air pollution and other exposures can cause lung cancer in nonsmokers.
The majority of lung cancer is caused by tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. However, if you’re a nonsmoker, you may be at risk for lung cancer if you’re affected by the following:

  • You’ve been exposed to arsenic, asbestos, chromium, nickel, radon, soot, or tar.
  • You live where there is air pollution.
  • You have a family history of lung cancer.
  • You’ve received radiation therapy.

3. Early stage lung cancer usually has no symptoms.
Lung cancer often does not cause symptoms in its early stages or people may misjudge symptoms as an infection or long-term effects of smoking, so diagnosis could be delayed. Lung cancer symptoms may include:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse over time
  • Chest pain that may be worse when coughing or breathing in deeply
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored mucus
  • Hoarseness or wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

4. A yearly low-dose CT scan is recommended if you are or were a heavy smoker.
If you’ve smoked a pack or two a day for more than 10 years and you’re age 55 or older, it may be beneficial to get screened for lung cancer with a low-dose CT scan. It’s covered by both Medicare and most private insurers. A CT scan is painless and noninvasive (performed without incisions), and it uses x-rays to create detailed pictures of your lungs. The WV Lung Cancer Program is available to assist low-income individuals with lung cancer screening. Talk with your doctor about whether a low-dose CT scan is right for you.

5. Advanced treatment for lung cancer is available at WVU Medicine.
We bring the latest cancer treatments to the region – from highly-targeted stereotactic radiosurgery techniques to robotic surgeries. Thoracic surgeons at the WVU Cancer Institute perform robotic lung-preserving surgery for early stage lung cancer with three small incisions using precise robotic instruments guided by the surgeon’s hands. The average hospital stay is about two days, and most patients are back to their normal life within two weeks. Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) is an alternate to surgery for patients who are not candidates for surgery or choose not to undergo surgery. SBRT delivers high-dose radiation to tumors with less damage to surrounding healthy lung tissue.

Talk with a primary care provider about smoking cessation and lung cancer screening options. Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE.

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