Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

In the United States, more than 235,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. Overall, lung cancer accounts for about 22% of deaths due to cancer, making it the leading cause of cancer death. 

Michael Newton, MD, is a pulmonologist who treats patients with lung cancer. Although the greatest risk factor for developing lung cancer is smoking, some 10-15% of cases are people who have never smoked. Dr. Newton and his staff understand the fear that a lung cancer diagnosis causes. In this post, we discuss some of the most common early symptoms. 

Early symptoms

Your lungs don’t have many nerve endings, so sometimes the earliest symptoms of lung cancer are difficult to detect. One of the most common symptoms is a cough that doesn’t go away. 

You may think that you’re coughing because of seasonal allergies or something similar, but if the cough continues, or is accompanied by chest pain, you should seek medical care. 

Shortness of breath is another common symptom. Everyone is short of breath now and then, but if you notice yourself repeatedly feeling out of breath when there’s no apparent reason, it could be a symptom of lung cancer. 

Unusual fatigue and unexplained weight loss could also be signs of lung cancer. All of these symptoms are common with other conditions or illnesses, but if you have them, it makes sense to see a doctor to check for an underlying cause. 

Risk factors

Smoking tobacco, especially smoking cigarettes, is the number one risk factor for developing lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is linked to 80-90% of all lung cancer deaths. And, even though just a few cigarettes a day increases your risk drastically, the more years you smoke and the more cigarettes per day you smoke, the more likely you are to develop lung cancer. 

Quitting smoking lowers your risk, but you’re still at a higher risk than someone who never smoked. If you live with a smoker and you’re regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, you have a higher risk of developing lung cancer as well. 

Radon, which is a naturally occurring gas that you can’t see, smell, or taste, is also associated with a higher risk of lung cancer. Radon exposure accounts for about 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year. 

If you’ve survived lung cancer, you have a higher risk of developing it again. A family history of lung cancer also increases your risk. 

Lung cancer screenings

If you’re concerned about your risk of lung cancer, you may want to discuss an annual screening. It’s likely your doctor will bring it up with you if you’re 55 or older and either smoke or you quit in the last 15 years. If your primary care doctor doesn’t suggest a screening, you can call our office and schedule one on your own. 

One of the reasons lung cancer is among the deadliest forms of cancer is that it’s rarely detected early on. If you have an increased risk, it’s reasonable to get annual screenings. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Newton today to discuss your risk and make a plan to get regular screenings if appropriate.  

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