Smokers, Nonsmokers Alike Urged to Learn About Lung Cancer

Knowing symptoms, early detection could cut rates of this deadly disease, expert suggests

TUESDAY, Nov. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Statistics show that lung cancer kills about 160,000 people a year in the United States and is the country's leading cause of cancer death, but there are steps people can take to reduce their risk, an expert advises.

Lung cancer causes more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined, according to the American Lung Association.

Therefore, people should learn the facts about lung cancer and simple ways to reduce their risk, Dr. Bruce Johnson, director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said in a news release from the institute.

Smoking is the greatest risk factor for lung cancer, but nonsmokers account for 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer cases, he noted. It's important for everyone to know the symptoms of lung cancer because early detection can lead to better outcomes.

Symptoms can include: a cough that doesn't go away; shortness of breath; back and shoulder pain; and coughing up blood. People with these symptoms should see their doctor, Johnson advised.

Lung cancer can be difficult to detect but recent research suggests that low-dose CT scans can detect tumors at an earlier stage in people at high risk for lung cancer. This type of screening is recommended for people aged 55 to 74 who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years and quit less than 15 years ago.

Advances in the last decade have led to new targeted therapies that offer more treatment options for lung cancer patients.

"The identification of genetic alterations -- such as EGFR and ALK -- make the tumors more likely to respond to certain targeted drugs that can be taken in pill form and have fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy," Johnson said in the news release.

"The most important thing a person can do to avoid lung cancer is to never start smoking," but smokers who quit begin to reduce their risks for lung cancer and heart attack within weeks, Johnson noted.

"People who stop and remain a nonsmoker for at least 10 to 20 years can cut their risk of developing lung cancer by 50 to 75 percent," he said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about lung cancer prevention.

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