Lung Cancer Can Strike Anyone – But Smokers At Greatest Risk

Aug 15, 2005

The recent death of television news anchor Peter Jennings and Dana Reeve's diagnosis have put lung cancer in the national spotlight. This increased attention, cancer experts hope, will spur greater public awareness of the disease's causes and symptoms, leading to a reduction in lung cancer deaths.

Lung cancer is the deadliest form of cancer in the United States, and causes more deaths each year than colon, breast, and prostate cancer combined. This year alone, more than 163,000 people likely will die from lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Bruce Johnson, MD, director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, says smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. An estimated 80 percent of lung cancer cases in women and 90 percent in men are linked to smoking. Johnson is quick to point out, however, that many smokers try to quit, that tobacco is addictive, and that it is not productive to blame smokers who develop lung cancer. “People who smoke don't deserve to get lung cancer,” says Johnson.

Although smoking is by far the largest risk factor, lung cancer can also develop in non-smokers, as is the case with Reeve. “Twenty percent of women and ten percent of men who get lung cancer never smoked,” explains Johnson. He said environmental risk factors, such as exposure to second-hand smoke or certain industrial chemicals, can increase a person's risk of developing lung cancer. Genetics may also play a factor in some cases.

Lung cancer is typically most treatable when caught early, but detecting lung cancer in its earliest stages is difficult. There currently is not an effective screening test, such as mammography for breast cancer. Symptoms of early stage lung cancer are easy to miss, and some, such as a persistent cough, may be confused as symptoms for a cold or the flu. As a result, only about 15 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed in its early stage.

Stressing that lung cancer shares many symptoms with other non-life-threatening diseases and conditions, Johnson encourages people, especially smokers, to see their physicians if they experience any of the following:

  • A cough that will not go away over several weeks. Smokers may see a change in the frequency or severity of an already persistent cough;
  • Chest, shoulder, or back pain that doesn't go away and is made worse by deep breathing;
  • Increased wheezing;
  • Shortness of breath; or
  • Bloody coughs.

    While studies of new lung cancer treatments at Dana-Farber and elsewhere have shown promising results, preventing lung cancer is far better than any new treatment, says Johnson. “The best way to prevent lung cancer is to never start smoking. For the people who are smokers, they should quit, and those who already have stopped smoking, they should remain non-smokers.”

    More information on lung cancer care and research is available on the Dana-Farber web site, www.dana-farber.org/can/updates/lung.asp .

    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), a designated comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute.

    Explore further: Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

    add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf
  • Related Stories

    Health concerns swirl around electronic cigarettes

    Mar 26, 2014

    With sales of electronic cigarettes, or "e-cigarettes," on the rise and expected to hit $1.5 billion this year, concerns over potential health risks of using the trendy devices are also gaining momentum and political clout. ...

    Gene is linked to lung cancer development in never-smokers

    Mar 22, 2010

    A five-center collaborative study that scanned the genomes of thousands of "never smokers" diagnosed with lung cancer as well as healthy never smokers has found a gene they say could be responsible for a significant number ...

    Recommended for you

    Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

    13 hours ago

    Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

    Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

    Apr 18, 2014

    Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

    User comments : 0

    More news stories

    Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

    Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

    UAE reports 12 new cases of MERS

    Health authorities in the United Arab Emirates have announced 12 new cases of infection by the MERS coronavirus, but insisted the patients would be cured within two weeks.