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Predisposed to lung cancer?

Child blowing dandelionNovember is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. While lung cancer occurs less often because people are smoking less, it is still one of the most common types of cancer. Some people are more likely to develop lung cancer than others.

Ask yourself the following questions to decide if you are at risk:

  • Have you ever smoked?
  • Were you ever been exposed to radon or asbestos?
  • Has lung cancer occurred in your family?
  • If you were in the military, were you exposed to Agent Orange or other toxic chemicals?
  • Do you have respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis or pneumonia?
  • Have you been exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke?

You may need to be screened for lung cancer if:

  • (1) You are at least 55 years of age and (2) smoked for at least 30 pack years and (3) currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years.
  • (1) You are at least 50 years of age and (2) have at least 20 pack years of smoking and (3) one additional risk factor listed above, except for secondhand smoke.
  • (1) You are at least 55 years of age and (2) smoked 30 pack years and (3) quit more than 15 years ago, but you have another risk factor listed above, besides secondhand smoke.

What is a pack year? To calculate your pack years, multiple your average number of packs per day by the number of years you smoked. For example, 2 packs of day for 15 years = 30 pack years.

The only way to screen for lung cancer is to have a CT scan. A CT scan is a series of X-rays that show an organ in your body as if it was sliced like bread. The doctor then examines each “slice” for any signs of cancer.

Sometimes the scan will show nodules that are not lung cancer. However, if they are over a certain size, more tests may be needed to make sure that there is no cancer. If lung cancer is caught early, it is more likely to be cured and the surgery needed will be less invasive.

Do not wait for symptoms. Often there are none until the cancer has spread. Common signs of lung cancer resemble other common illnesses—see your doctor if they persist.

They may include:

  • Coughing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired
  • Wheezing
  • Chest, shoulder, back or arm pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Pneumonia

Source: Lung Cancer Alliance, 2014.