Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide in both men and women. Smoking is closely related to lung cancer. It’s documented that in every ten cases of lung cancer, nine are caused by smoking. People who have never smoked may still be at risk of developing lung cancer, but at a much lower rate in comparison with smokers.
The risk of getting lung cancer due to smoking depends on two factors: the number of cigarettes that are smoked per day, and the duration that the person has been smoking - the longer the duration, the higher the risk.
Smoking cigarettes is the major risk factor for lung cancer. However, cigar and pipe smoking are not any better! In fact, smoking cigars is associated with a much higher risk of lung cancer than smoking cigarettes.
People who don’t smoke, but live with others who are smoking in same closed area (passive smokers), are at higher risk of lung cancer than other populations with no smoking, but less than the actual smokers themselves.
Once one stops smoking, the risk of getting lung cancer will drop, thus it’s worth stopping smoking as soon as possible to protect your lungs.
Most symptoms of lung cancer are general and can be caused by variety of benign conditions. It may be difficult for a general physician to distinguish between benign and cancer cases. That’s why there are recommended guidelines for the patient’s referral to a specialist; the guidelines are explained below.
Besides smoking, many other risk factors are related to a high risk of lung cancer. The following are the most important ones:
Exposure to radon gas, which is a natural gas found in the soil and it is radioactive
Exposure to cancerous chemicals
History of previous chronic lung diseases
Excessive air pollution
Family history of lung cancer
People with low immunity
Previous history of treated lung cancer
The exact cause of lung cancer is not very clear. Many people who get lung cancer have no specific risk factor for it.
Lung cancer may produce a wide range of symptoms, most of them are general. The following are the most common:
Persistent cough: if there is a persistent cough that is not get relieved despite management, one needs to consult his/her doctor as soon as possible
Changes in a chronic cough: if one has chronic cough, any change in quality of voice, phlegm or sputum production is very significant
Shortness of breath after any mild activity
Chest pain when taking deep breath or when coughing
Loos of appetite
Persistent tiredness that is not relieved after rest
Unintentional weight loss
Persistent chest infection which is not relieved after proper management
Some of the symptoms that are rarely caused by lung cancer, but their presence indicate that lung cancer may have developed to its advanced stage. The following are some of those symptoms:
Change in the quality of voice due to the involvement of the larynx (voice box)
Swallowing with difficulty
Changes in the nails shape; they become more curved
Difficulty breathing due to the accumulation of fluids in the lung
Pain in the right upper part of the belly due to the involvement of the liver.
Although these symptoms may be caused by a variety of other disorders, excluding lung cancer is very crucial. Some rare types of lung cancer can secret hormones which cause disturbance in the internal environment of the body.
Urgent chest x-ray should be done if:
The patient is coughing fresh blood
The patient is coughing phlegm mixed with blood
The patient is having the following symptoms for three weeks or more:
Change in voice
Unintentional weight loss
Sensation of small masses in the neck; lymph nodes
Changes in the nails
You must consult a specialist as soon as possible if you have one of the following situations:
Evidences of suspicious findings in a chest x-ray
You are a smoker or ex-smoker, and now you are coughing blood
Personal exposure to asbestos for a long period of time, and you are now complaining from chest pain and difficulty breathing
It’s preferred to consult your doctor no later than a maximum of four weeks from the time you discover one of the following:
Accidental finding of some small swellings in the face
Accidental finding of some small swellings in the neck
Consistent loud noisy breathing; especially when sleeping