While lung cancer doesn't always receive the type of recognition that other cancers, such as breast cancer, tend to, November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, so we decided to highlight some important things to know about this deadly disease.
1. It targets more than just smokers. While 85 percent of cases are thought to be caused by smoking, 15 percent of cases appear in seemingly healthy non-smokers. Experts say that other factors such as pollution, carbon dioxide and asbestos can all cause cancer.
2. Lung cancer cases in women are on the rise. Cancer death rates have actually been dropping since 2006, in both men and women, across the board, except in...lung cancer. While cases in men have plateaued, cases in women have been rising. The American Lung Association estimates that 20 percent of women diagnosed with lung cancer have never touched a cigarette. Another 50 percent are estimated to have smoked in the past, but quit.
3. There is no way to screen for lung cancer. There are an estimated 100 million people in the United States who either smoke or used to be smokers, which puts them at a higher risk for developing lung cancer. Unfortunately, unlike breast cancer or colon cancer, there are no good options for screening 100 million people for lung cancer, except CT scans, which are expensive. Researchers are studying different options including chest x-rays and spiral CTS, but there is still no generally accepted screening test for lung cancer.
4. Lung cancer is treatable— when it's caught early. Most people aren't diagnosed with lung cancer until it's reached a very advanced stage, at which point the five-year survival rate drops from 53 percent to 4 percent.
5. The symptoms of lung cancer differ in women and men. This is because the types of lung cancer diagnosed in men and women also tends to be different. Men are more commonly diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, which tends to grow near major airways. Physical symptoms tend to include blood-tinged phlegm, a chronic cough, and infections. In contrast, women are more often diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, which grows on the outer regions of the lungs. This kind of cancer doesn't present with many symptoms, and if it does, they tend to be less subtle than squamous cell carcinoma, presenting with symptoms such as shortness of breath, back and shoulder pain, and fatigue.