Most lung cancer is caused by smoking tobacco including cigarettes, cigars and pipes. The risk increases with how long a person has smoked and the amount smoked per day. Other causes for lung cancer may include:
- Exposure to tobacco smoke. Nonsmoking spouses of smokers and people who work in smoky environments also have a higher risk of lung cancer.
- Exposure to asbestos or radon gas. People who worked for long periods of time in an industry that used asbestos and people whose homes were exposed to radon gas are at increased risk for lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among both women and men. It claims more lives than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined, according to a 2004 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
What you can do to help prevent or treat lung cancer
One way to help prevent lung cancer is not to smoke. Keep away from other people's cigarette smoke, too.
Kicking a tobacco habit can be difficult. Keep in mind that your lungs will begin to repair themselves after you quit. Each day you're smoke-free, you're decreasing your risk.
If you're diagnosed with lung cancer, your doctor will likely recommend a combination of therapies. Treatment options depend on the type of lung cancer, the stage of the cancer and your overall health. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are the most common treatments.
How to talk to your doctor
Because lung cancer usually doesn't cause symptoms in the early stages, it's important that you tell your doctor about risk factors. Working with your doctor, you can develop a plan for prevention.
Visit your doctor right away if you are at risk for lung cancer or experience these symptoms:
- A nagging or prolonged cough that doesn't go away
- Constant chest, shoulder or back pain
- Shortness of breath and wheezing
- Coughing up blood
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Recurring bronchitis, pneumonia or other infection