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Who's At Risk Of Developing Lung Cancer?

Recognizing Symptoms Of Lung Cancer.

About Lung Cancer. Are you at Risk?

Could you be at risk for lung cancer? If you've smoked heavily or have smoked for many years, the answer is "yes." Smoking puts you at risk even if you no longer smoke or do not have any symptoms. There's no doubt about it--cigarette smoking can cause lung cancer. In fact, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Every year, more than 169,000 people in the United States get lung cancer, and more than 154,000 people die from this disease. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women.

Your risk of lung cancer depends on how many cigarettes and how long you've smoked. Quitting reduces the risk, but half of all lung cancers occur in former smokers. See the publication What You Need To Know About Lung Cancer for more information about this disease.

Because the impact that smoking has on lung cancer is significant, the U.S. Surgeon General has called for cutting smoking rates in half by 2010.

Lung Cancer: Who's at Risk?

Researchers have discovered several causes of lung cancer -- most are related to the use of tobacco.

Cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer. Harmful substances, called carcinogens, in tobacco damage the cells in the lungs. Over time, the damaged cells may become cancerous. The likelihood that a smoker will develop lung cancer is affected by the age at which smoking began, how long the person has smoked, the number of cigarettes smoked per day, and how deeply the smoker inhales. Stopping smoking greatly reduces a person's risk for developing lung cancer.

Cigars and Pipes. Cigar and pipe smokers have a higher risk of lung cancer than nonsmokers. The number of years a person smokes, the number of pipes or cigars smoked per day, and how deeply the person inhales all affect the risk of developing lung cancer. Even cigar and pipe smokers who do not inhale are at increased risk for lung, mouth, and other types of cancer.

Environmental Tobacco Smoke. The chance of developing lung cancer is increased by exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) -- the smoke in the air when someone else smokes. Exposure to ETS, or secondhand smoke, is called involuntary or passive smoking.

Researchers continue to study the causes of lung cancer and to search for ways to prevent it. We already know that the best way to prevent lung cancer is to quit (or never start) smoking. The sooner a person quits smoking the better. Even if you have been smoking for many years, it's never too late to benefit from quitting.

The Lungs

The lungs, a pair of sponge-like, cone-shaped organs, are part of the respiratory system. The right lung has three sections, called lobes; it is a little larger than the left lung, which has two lobes. When we breathe in, the lungs take in oxygen, which our cells need to live and carry out their normal functions. When we breathe out, the lungs get rid of carbon dioxide, which is a waste product of the body's cells.

Cancers that begin in the lungs are divided into two major types, non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, depending on how the cells look under a microscope. Each type of lung cancer grows and spreads in different ways and is treated differently.

Nonsmall cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer, and it generally grows and spreads more slowly. There are three main types of non-small cell lung cancer. They are named for the type of cells in which the cancer develops: squamous cell carcinoma (also called epidermoid carcinoma), adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.

Small cell lung cancer, sometimes called oat cell cancer, is less common than non-small cell lung cancer. This type of lung cancer grows more quickly and is more likely to spread to other organs in the body.

Recognizing Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Common signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time
  • Constant chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
  • Repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Fatigue

These symptoms may be caused by lung cancer or by other conditions. It is important to check with a doctor.

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