Many individuals assume that people with lung cancer smoke but for some with lung cancer, that is not the case. It is estimated that as many as 1 out of 5 people who die from lung cancer in the United States do not smoke or use tobacco products.  Interestingly enough, if lung cancer in nonsmokers had its own category, it would be ranked in the top 10 fatal cancers in the United States.  According to the 2010 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), fewer than 4% of high-risk smokers got a proper screening for lung cancer.

Screening for Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is screened through a chest computerized tomography, or more commonly known as a chest CT scan. A chest CT scan can cost on average between $500-$1,500 or more depending on the facility it is performed at. Insurance providers will likely cover some or most of the cost.  According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force annual screenings for lung cancer should be completed by performing a low-dose CT scan in adults, age 55-80 years who have a 30 pack a year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. They recommend discontinuing annual screenings once a person has been smoke-free for 15 years.

Screening for lung cancer in smokers is extremely important because of the prognosis of lung cancer. The earlier cancer is detected the better the chances are for treatment and overall survival rate. Given the fact that lung cancer is the third most common type of cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States it is important the screening be done in high-risk populations or with individuals who exhibit signs or symptoms of lung cancer.

Causes

The primary cause of lung disease is smoking. Even if you have been smoking for many years quitting smoking is an effective solution to reducing the risk of lung cancer. Surprisingly many other things can be risk factors for lung disease including:

  • Radon gas: According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the leading cause of cancer in nonsmokers is exposure to radon exposure. This gas is invisible to the eye and undetectable by smell. Radon can be found in homes and should be tested for to see if it is a problem.
  • Secondhand smoke: research has shown that nonsmokers who live with a smoker have 24% increase in the risk of lung cancer.
  • Cancer-causing agents at work: repeated exposure to cancer-causing agents like asbestos can lead to lung cancer. At first, your body can heal itself but repeated exposure to harmful agents damage the lung tissue putting it at risk of developing into cancer.
  • Air pollution: pollution leads to higher rates of lung disease in a way similar to smoking.
  • Gene mutations: researchers are trying to find what causes cells to become cancerous.

Symptoms

Lung cancer doesn’t cause symptoms in its early stages but when the disease advances signs and symptoms could include:

  • A new cough that doesn’t go away
  • Changes in a chronic cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Bone Pain
  • Headache

Treatment

Treatment will depend on many different factors that will need to be discussed with your doctor. One could expect option to include:

  • Surgery: surgery is used to remove cancer. There are multiple types of surgical resections ranging from taking a small section of lung tissue to removing the entire lung.
  • Chemotherapy: chemotherapy is designed to kill cancer cells. Often times multiple chemotherapy drugs will be used together. Chemotherapy is often used in conjunction with surgery.
  • Radiation therapy: radiation uses high-powered energy beams that are directed at the cancer to kill the cancer cells. Radiation can be used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might have been left behind.

New Treatment Options

Advancements in medical research have lead to many recent developments in the treatment of lung cancer. Two new lung cancer treatments have oncologists optimistic about their impact on lung cancer patients.

Immunotherapy is a new treatment option. Dr. Leena Gandhi, director of thoracic medical oncology at the PerLmutter Cancer Center says that “immunotherapy has changed the standard of care for treatment of lung cancer and has already made a significant impact on survival for many patients.” Cancer cells can disguise themselves and thereby trick the immune system in not recognizing them as harmful. Immunotherapy removes cancer markers that prevent the body from noticing that something is wrong. Thus, the body will attack the cancer cells. In October of 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new immunotherapy drug called pembrolizumab for the treatment of a particular type of metastatic lung cancer. Pembrolizumab has been shown to reduce the chance of further cancer growth by 50% and reduce the risk of death by 40% when compared to chemotherapy.

Targeted therapies limit or prevent changes in cancer cells that aid them in growing. This happens when oncologists analyze the genetic makeup of cancers. Then oncologists can pick out certain markers in cancer cells and treat them in a small subset of patients by inhibiting the markers.

Lung cancer can be a difficult cancer to detect and treat and can have many different causes, many which people are unaware of. Recent advancements in research and medical technology are helping to fight lung cancer and bring about better outcomes for patients.