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Get the facts on lung cancer so you can breathe easier

Posted November 29, 2021 by Sandy Kohut, RRT

X-ray of lungs with highlighted nodes

You’re not a smoker, so you can’t be at risk for lung cancer, right? Not so fast.

While smokers, especially cigarette smokers, make up the leading cause of lung cancer deaths, nonsmokers do get diagnosed with this deadly disease.

Lung cancer is the second most common diagnosed cancer in both men and women, and the leading cause of cancer deaths, making up almost 25 percent in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

However, despite how common it is, many people don’t know much about lung cancer. Learning more about this disease will help you and your loved ones understand how to reduce your risks, increase early detection, and navigate treatment options if diagnosed with lung cancer.

Lung cancer starts in the lungs, usually in the cells that line your air passages. There are two main types of lung cancer that will affect your symptoms and treatment, including:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer: This is the most common form of lung cancer, making up nearly 85 percent of cases, according to the ACS. It begins when cells inside the lining of the airways, including the bronchi and alveoli, grow rapidly and uncontrollably, often forming a tumor.
  • Small cell lung cancer: Less common, this cancer is fast growing and strongly associated with heavy smoking. Typically, it begins in the bronchial passages and quickly spreads to other areas of the body. This type of lung cancer can be more difficult to treat because it’s often found at advanced stages.

Summa Health knows the importance of prevention, rapid diagnosis, and prompt treatment of lung cancer. Summa Health has a dedicated team of professionals specially trained in advanced diagnostic testing procedures. Our multidisciplinary team follows evidence based guidelines to ensure patients get the best possible care. Each year, the number of deaths from lung cancer continues to drop due to people quitting smoking and advances in early detection and treatment options.

Risk factors for lung cancer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 90 percent of lung cancers are caused by cigarette smoke. There are other risk factors, however, that can increase your chance of getting lung cancer, including:

  • Smoking pipes or cigars
  • Second-hand smoke
  • Radiation therapy
  • Environmental and occupational exposure to asbestos, radon, arsenic, air pollution and other harsh substances
  • Family history of lung cancer

Symptoms of lung cancer

Lung cancer usually does not cause symptoms when it first develops, but symptoms often show after the tumor begins growing. Typical symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Recurring lung infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Bloody or rest-colored sputum (phlegm)
  • Hoarseness
  • Swelling of the neck and face, usually caused by a tumor that presses on the large blood vessels near the lung
  • Pain and weakness in the shoulder, arm or hand, caused by a tumor that presses on certain nerves near the lung
  • Unintentional weight loss

Diagnosing lung cancer

When lung cancer is suspected, your healthcare provider will most likely perform a physical exam and run a CT scan of your lungs. If a lung nodule or mass is detected, additional testing that may include more advanced imaging scans, pulmonary function testing and possibly biopsies to obtain a tissue sample.

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, you will undergo a series of tests to determine the stage of your cancer. This will guide the treatment options available to you.

Lung cancer treatment

A team of specialists will determine your treatment for lung cancer based on the type and stage you have. A combination of treatments, including surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy or radiation therapy to shrink or kill the cancer, and targeted therapies to block the growth of cancer or immunotherapies to help your immune system fight the disease.

For example, early stages of non-small cell lung cancer can be treated with surgery to remove the tumors or radiation therapy, while later stages are treated with chemotherapy or targeted/immunotherapy to block the growth and spread of cancer cells.

For small cell lung cancer that spreads rapidly and likely diagnosed at a later stage, a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapies may be used to treat the disease.


While many believe lung cancer is always fatal, that’s not the case. Early detection and treatment can decrease lung cancer mortality by up to 20 percent among high-risk patients — and some even beat it completely, according to ACS.

If you’re at high risk for lung cancer, screening is vital to catching it early. To screen for lung cancer, your doctor will perform a low-dose CT scan to take images of your lungs. Starting at age 50, individuals should start talking to their physician about screening if they:

  • Have at least a 20 pack year smoking history
  • Are currently smoking or have quit in the last 15 years
  • Are asymptomatic

Screening should take place annually until age 80.

You can also take steps to be proactive with your health by changing the risk factors that you can control. The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to not smoke and avoid breathing in second-hand smoke. No matter your age or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can lower your risk of lung cancer and help you live longer.

If you suspect you’re at high risk, talk to your healthcare provider about preventative screenings and lifestyle changes. It just might save your life.

Contact Summa Health today to schedule your CT lung screening at 330.319.9482

Sandy Kohut, RRT

Sandy Kohut, RRT


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