At Orlando Health, we believe our communities should be empowered with information, including the risks of developing lung cancer and the steps to proactively prevent it. If you are at risk for lung cancer or have questions on how to prevent it, our multidisciplinary team of lung specialists is here to answer your questions and help give you power over your health.
Screening & Early Detection
Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in both men and women in the United States. At least 8.6 million Americans are at high risk for developing lung cancer and should be screened annually, according to the American Lung Association.
Studies have shown that a low-dose CT scan is the only lung cancer screening tool that reduces your risk of dying from lung cancer. That’s because symptoms of lung cancer usually don't appear until the disease is already at an advanced stage. Even when lung cancer does cause symptoms, many people may mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or the long-term effects from smoking. This may delay the diagnosis.
A low-dose CT scan shows changes in your lungs, which will prompt your doctor to order a test to determine if you have lung cancer. Your actual diagnosis of lung cancer is made by looking at your lung cells in a lab. The cells can be taken from lung secretions (mucus you cough up), fluid removed from the area around your lung (thoracentesis), or from a suspicious area using a needle or surgery (biopsy). If you need a lung cancer test, your doctor will decide which test is appropriate for you.
Learn what to expect during a lung cancer screening and helpful tips for setting up an appointment on our Lung Cancer Screening Frequently Asked Questions page.
Should You Be Screened?
You should be screened for lung cancer if you meet ALL these conditions:
- Are between 50 and 80 years old
- Have a 20 pack-year smoking history, which is calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked a day by the number of years you have smoked
- Currently smoke or quit within the past 15 years
If you have a family history of lung cancer or may have been exposed to cancer-causing elements, such as asbestos or radon gas, you should talk with your doctor about whether you need regular screenings.
To schedule your low-dose CT scan/lung cancer screening, click here.
Risk Factors You Can Control
Anything that can increase your chances getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you definitely will get lung cancer. However, there are some risk factors you can change, which may reduce your likelihood of developing lung cancer. These include:
- Tobacco smoke. About 80 percent of lung cancer deaths are linked to smoking, and this number is probably even higher for small cell lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer for people who smoke is many times higher than for nonsmokers. The longer you smoke and the more packs a day you smoke, the greater your risk. Cigar smoking and pipe smoking are almost as likely to cause lung cancer as cigarette smoking.
- Smoking with other behaviors. If you smoke, you may be at an even higher risk for lung cancer if you take vitamin E supplements in doses above the recommended daily allowance, take beta carotene supplements, take hormone replacement therapy medicines (estrogen plus progestin), use alcohol heavily or vape.
- Secondhand smoke. Breathing in the smoke from others can increase your risk of developing lung cancer.
- Exposure to radon. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is produced when uranium in soil and rocks breaks down. You can’t see, taste or smell it. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in this country, and it is the leading cause among people who don't smoke. Radon is most dangerous indoors, where it’s more concentrated.
- Exposure to asbestos. People who work with asbestos, such as in mines, mills, textile plants, places where insulation is used and shipyards, are several times more likely to die of lung cancer. Lung cancer risk is much greater in workers exposed to asbestos who also smoke. People exposed to large amounts of asbestos also have a greater risk of developing mesothelioma, a type of cancer that starts in the pleura (the lining surrounding the lungs).
- Exposure to other cancer-causing agents in the workplace. Radioactive ores, such as uranium; inhaled chemicals, such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, silica, vinyl chloride, nickel compounds, chromium compounds, coal products, mustard gas and chloromethyl ethers; and diesel exhaust raise your risk of lung cancer.
- Taking certain dietary supplements. People who smoke should avoid taking beta carotene supplements.
Risk Factors You Cannot Control
There are some risk factors you can’t change. If you have any of these factors, you should talk with your primary care physician about whether you need regular screening:
- Previous radiation therapy to the lungs. If you have had radiation therapy to the chest for other cancers, you are at higher risk for lung cancer, especially if you smoke. For example, people who have been treated for Hodgkin lymphoma or women who get chest radiation after a mastectomy for breast cancer have a higher risk of lung cancer. Women who have radiation therapy to the breast after a lumpectomy do not appear to have a higher-than-expected risk of lung cancer.
- Personal or family history of lung cancer. If you have had lung cancer, you have a higher risk of developing lung cancer again. If one of your parents or a sibling had lung cancer, you may have a slightly higher risk, especially if the relative was diagnosed at a younger age. It’s not clear how much of this risk might be due to shared genes among family members and how much might be from shared household exposures, such as tobacco smoke or radon.
- Air pollution. In cities, outdoor air pollution appears to raise the risk of lung cancer slightly. This risk is far less than the risk caused by smoking.
Lowering Your Risk for Lung Cancer
There is no way to completely prevent cancer, but there are things you can do to lower your risk. The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is not to smoke and to avoid breathing in other people’s smoke.
If you smoke, make it your top priority to quit. It’s hard to do, and it often takes several tries before you kick the habit for good. But it is never too late to stop smoking, and the sooner you stop, the better. Cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke can help, but that is not as good as quitting completely.
There are many ways to stop smoking, including counseling, nicotine replacement and medications. Even if you don’t succeed at first, keep trying! For help to stop smoking, we offer free smoking cessation classes. Click here for more information and the class schedule.
If you are a previous or current smoker, there are some things you can do that may decrease your risk of getting lung cancer, but none have been proven. These include:
- Eat plenty of fruit.
- Get regular exercise.
- Take aspirin or celecoxib (brand name Celebrex) regularly.
- Use inhaled corticosteroids (for emphysema and asthma) regularly.
If you live or work with people who smoke, encourage them to quit and ask them not to smoke around you. Secondhand smoke can raise your risk of developing lung cancer.
In addition to avoiding smoke in your lungs, there are some healthy habits you can adopt to help lower your risk of lung cancer. Among them:
- Avoid beta-carotene supplements. Studies show that they can make lung cancer more likely in people who smoke.
- Check your home for radon. Most hardware stores carry an inexpensive and easy-to-use kit that accurately measures radon levels.
- If you work with cancer-causing chemicals, follow all the safety rules to protect yourself.
- Exercise and eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. These healthy habits will lower your risk of several forms of cancer, as well as heart disease and diabetes.
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