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Sure Signs You Have Lung Cancer, Says Physician

What to know about lung cancer and signs you have it, according to MD who treats lung cancer patients. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Lung cancer is responsible for 25 percent of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society and in 2022, it's estimated there will be "About 236,740 new cases of lung cancer (117,910 in men and 118,830 in women) and about 130,180 deaths from lung cancer (68,820 in men and 61,360 in women)." While lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer death, the good news is, "the number of new lung cancer cases continues to decrease, partly because people are quitting smoking," the ACS states. Like with any other cancer, early detection is vital and Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies tells us the symptoms to be aware of and what to know about lung 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 Should People Know About Lung Cancer?

Patients lying on hospital bed with mask, looking at lung x-ray film during doctor reading result and advice a treatment

Dr. Mitchell says, "Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States. While smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer, anyone can develop the disease, regardless of their smoking history. There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell and small cell. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type, accounting for about 80% of all cases. Small cell lung cancer is more aggressive and tends to grow and spread more quickly. Lung cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these approaches. The best course of action will depend on the stage of the disease and other factors. With advances in treatment options and early detection methods, more people are surviving lung cancer than ever before."


Who is at Risk for Lung Cancer

no smoking sign

Dr. Mitchell shares, "While smoking is by far the greatest risk factor for the disease, non-smokers can also develop lung cancer. In fact, one in five lung cancer patients has never smoked. Other risk factors for lung cancer include exposure to secondhand smoke, asbestos, radon, and air pollution. People with a family history of lung cancer are also at increased risk. Fortunately, there are steps that individuals can take to reduce their risk of developing lung cancer. Quitting smoking is the single best thing that smokers can do to lower their risk. Those who have never smoked should avoid exposure to secondhand smoke as much as possible. Additionally, individuals can reduce their exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens by taking precautions at work and at home. Finally, regular screening for lung cancer can help catch the disease early."


Early Detection is Key

Attentive doctor analyzing x ray of his patient

Dr. Mitchell states, "Lung cancer is a serious illness that affects thousands of people every year. While there are many different types of lung cancer, the disease typically manifests as a lump or mass in the lungs. Unfortunately, by the time most patients seek medical attention, the cancer has often progressed to a more advanced stage. This can make treatment more difficult and may decrease the chances of survival. Early diagnosis is therefore critical for patients with lung cancer. In addition to regular check-ups with a doctor, patients should be aware of potential symptoms, such as a cough that does not go away, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fatigue. If these symptoms are present, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible for further evaluation.

As a doctor, I am all too familiar with the devastation that lung cancer can cause. It is a cruel illness that attacks without warning, and often takes the lives of those who are diagnosed. I have seen firsthand the impact that it can have on patients and their families. All too often, I am called upon to deliver the devastating news that a patient has lung cancer. It is an unimaginably difficult thing to do, and my heart goes out to each and every one of them. I am always hopeful that, through early detection and treatment, we will be able to give them a fighting chance."


How Treatable is Lung Cancer?

According to Dr. Mitchell, "While lung cancer is often thought of as a death sentence, treatment options and survival rates have come a long way in recent years.  While the majority of lung cancer cases are still diagnosed at an advanced stage, early detection is crucial to increasing the chances of beating the disease. One promising development is low-dose CT scanning, which can help to find tumors when they are still small and highly treatable, so if you have a history of smoking, please talk to your health care providers about this option. When it comes to lung cancer, treatment options are constantly evolving, and there is reason to be hopeful for the future."


A Persistent Cough

Man sneezing into his elbow.

"A persistent cough that does not go away or gets worse over time is a clear sign of lung cancer," says Dr. Mitchell. "This is because the cancerous cells in the lung develop into tumors that press on the airways and nerves, causing a chronic cough. In addition, the tumors produce inflammation and fluid buildup, which can further irritate the airways and lead to a productive cough. While lung cancer is not the only cause of a chronic cough, it is one of the most common. If you have a cough that does not improve after two weeks, it is important to see a doctor so that they can rule out other possible causes and begin treatment as soon as possible."


Shortness of Breath or Difficulty Breathing

Pretty brunette coughing on couch at home in the living-room.

Dr. Mitchell explains, "Shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing, is a common symptom of lung cancer. There are a number of reasons why this may occur. cancerous tumors can grow large enough to press on the airways and affect airflow. The tumors can also release substances that interfere with normal lung function. In addition, lung cancer can cause fluid to build up around the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. While shortness of breath can be caused by many different conditions, it is important to see a doctor if you experience this symptom on a regular basis, especially if you are a smoker or have a history of lung problems. Lung cancer is a serious disease, and early detection is essential for successful treatment."


Chest Pain or Discomfort

Asian young woman feeling discomfort as suffering from heartburn holding chest with closed eyes and sitting with folded legs on couch at home.

Dr. Mitchell says, "While chest pain is often associated with heart problems, it can also be a symptom of lung cancer. The pain may occur when the tumor presses against the lungs or the surrounding tissue. It may also be caused by a buildup of fluid in the area around the lungs. In some cases, the pain may be due to inflammation or irritation of the nerves that supply the lungs. Regardless of the cause, chest pain is a serious symptom that should not be ignored. If you experience any type of chest pain, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Lung cancer is a serious disease, and early detection is critical for successful treatment."


Hoarseness or Chronic Bronchitis

man using asthma machine at home.

"Hoarseness or chronic bronchitis can be a sign of lung cancer for several reasons," Dr. Mitchell reveals. "First, the cancerous growth can physically impede the normal flow of air through the lungs, causing a raspy or muffled voice. Additionally, the growth can irritate the vocal cords, leading to inflammation and swelling. In some cases, the cancerous cells may directly invade the vocal cord tissue. Finally, lung cancer can cause obstruction of the bronchi, leading to a buildup of mucus and phlegm. This accumulation can eventually result in hoarseness and chronic bronchitis. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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