Surprising statistics on lung cancer

With much attention paid to other forms of cancer, it may come as a surprise that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. More people die of lung cancer than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.

Smokers are typically at highest risk for lung cancer, but you can get lung cancer even if you’ve never smoked. More than 60 percent of new cases occur in men and women who either have never smoked or who are former smokers. Other causes of lung cancer include exposure to secondhand smoke, exposure to radon gas or asbestos, family history of lung cancer, estrogen and even excessive alcohol consumption. Lung cancer typically strikes in people age 45 and older.

A new study released this month – which is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month – found that Caucasian and African-American men and women are more prone than other ethnic groups to developing lung cancer. Hispanics have the lowest incidence of lung cancer.

Most early-stage lung cancers occur without symptoms, but there are signs to watch for – especially if you are a smoker or a former smoker, or if you have a family history of lung cancer:

  • Persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue

If you smoke, quitting can reduce your chances of developing lung cancer later in life. And quitting can also help those you love: a nonsmoker partnered with a smoker has a 20 percent greater risk of developing lung cancer. Smokers should steer clear of smoking around their significant others and children – even when outdoors.

Many in the medical community acknowledge that lung cancer carries with it the stigma that sufferers have brought it upon themselves – particularly if they are, or were, smokers. Treating smoking as an addiction to nicotine, rather than a self-sabotaging habit, can help lessen judgment around the disease.

For treatment and support options within Oregon, check out the Providence Cancer Center. To locate treatment and support options nationwide, visit the American Cancer Society’s website.