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The #1 Cause of "Deadly" Cancer Says Science

This is the number one cause of the deadliest cancer in the U.S.

According to the CDC, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease. "We will always need good treatments," says Timothy Rebbeck, the Vincent L. Gregory, Jr. Professor of Cancer Prevention at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and director of the School's Zhu Family Center for Global Cancer Prevention. "But we can't treat our way out of this problem. In order to make a dent in a public health sense, we must prevent cancer." Here is the number one cause of deadly cancer. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What Is the Most Deadly Cancer?

doctor explaining results of lung check up from x-ray scan chest on digital tablet screen to patient

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, responsible for 23% of all cancer deaths. "The range of what we're seeing and the numbers we're seeing are dropping because people are smoking less, but unfortunately the behavior of cancer is still something that's troublesome, because a lot of people still show up with symptoms, and usually that entails understanding that the cancer is probably more widespread than we would like it to be," says Radiation Oncologist Gregory Videtic, MD.

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What Causes Deadly Cancer?

cigarette in man hand with smoke

Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, causing about 90 percent of lung cancer cases. "There's a huge stigma associated with lung cancer because the majority of people who die from it are either smokers or former smokers," says oncologist Nathan Pennell, MD, Ph.D. "The fact is that anyone who has lungs can be exposed to carcinogens and develop lung cancer, so this is a disease that should concern everyone. Tobacco smoke is one of the most addictive substances known to man. Addiction is a disease. Many people who smoke become addicted as teenagers. Whether you're a smoker or not, nobody deserves to die from lung cancer."

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What Are the Early Signs of Lung Cancer?

Sick man looks at pill bottle whilst coughing.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, here are early symptoms of lung cancer:

  • Coughing that does not improve
  • Hoarseness
  • Blood in phlegm or sputum that is expelled by coughing
  • Weakness
  • Wheezing
  • Infections that return or will not clear
  • Chest pain that gets worse with cough or laugh

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How To Avoid Lung Cancer


While nothing is a guarantee, your risk of lung cancer is lessened if you don't smoke and avoid secondhand smoke— and if you are high risk, don't skip screenings. "Screening really is our best tool to find lung cancer before it advances into serious stages," says Julie Brahmer, a board-certified medical oncologist and director of the Lung Cancer Program at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

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Science Has Come Far With Lung Cancer

Doctor explaining lungs x-ray on computer screen to patient

Anyone worried about symptoms of lung cancer shouldn't hesitate to speak to a health professional. "Many of us have been around long enough that we started our careers when lung cancer had a stigma of doom and gloom, and you get lung cancer, you're going to die, there's self-blame involved," says pulmonologist Peter Mazzone, MD, MPH. "Now all of these advances have made this scenario of tremendous hope. You can work towards early diagnosis, and if you're at high risk, you can be screened. If you're diagnosed with an early stage cancer, you've got options of less invasive surgery… And with more advanced disease, there's tremendous changes in how cancer can be treated that have provided amazing amounts of hope. When we meet with someone who's diagnosed with an early stage lung cancer, we evaluate their lung function with testing, we hear from them of how much activity they're able to do." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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