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Understanding the illness

Dr. Thomas Birdas, thoracic surgeon at the IU Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center in Carmel

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Association for Cancer Research, lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the United States and worldwide. It develops in tissues of the lungs. Treatments for lung cancer may include surgery, radiation, and different types of chemotherapy. The best treatment depends on the specific type of lung cancer, the cancer stage, and the patient’s general medical condition.Lung Cancer Awareness Month

What causes lung cancer?

Cells lining the airways of your lungs constantly grow and divide. Throughout your lifetime, they replace cells that are lost. This maintains the right number of living cells in your lungs. Cancer develops when cells grow without proper regulation and too many cells build up to form a mass or tumor. The most common risk factor for lung cancer is cigarette smoking. Other lung cancer risk factors include secondhand smoke and exposure to radon and asbestos. Not everyone who develops lung cancer has smoked. In fact, about one in 10 lung cancer patients have no smoking history. Some patients with lung cancer do not have any particular risk factor that can be identified.

What are the symptoms?

Many patients with lung cancer do not have any symptoms. Others may have symptoms that are non-specific and develop slowly. These include fatigue, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Some symptoms such as cough, coughing up blood, chest pain, and shortness of breath may also be caused by lung cancer but are experienced less frequently.

Should you be screened for lung cancer?

Lung cancer often does not cause any symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. This can make it more difficult to treat. For this reason, lung cancer screening is recommended for individuals who are at an increased risk. Screening is recommended for individuals between the ages of 50 and 80 who are currently smoking or who quit smoking within the last 15 years and have at least a 20 pack-year smoking history (one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years, etc.). Lung cancer screening saves lives, but the decision for screening is an individual’s choice. If you would like to discuss lung cancer screening, schedule an appointment to discuss your options.

To learn more about lung cancer, screening, and treatment options, visit iuhealth.org and search “lung cancer.”

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