Lung Cancer

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer refers to any cancer that forms in the tissues of the bronchus or lung. 

Lung cancers are usually grouped in two main types:

  • Small cell
  • Non-small cell

These differ in how fast they grow and how they are treated. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer.

Leading Causes

Smoking is a major risk factor for both types of lung cancer. Approximately 80% of all lung cancer is caused by cigarette smoking. Among people who have never smoked, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer. People who smoke and are exposed to radon have an increased risk of lung cancer.

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These risk factors may increase your chances for developing lung cancer:

  • Tobacco use (cigarette, cigars, pipe, e-cigarettes, vape pens and e-hookah).
  • Exposure to environmental hazards (secondhand smoke, radon, asbestos, coal dust, other chemicals or substances).
  • Radiation therapy to the chest.
  • Personal and/or family history of lung cancer.

Most people do not have any symptoms of lung cancer until the cancer is advanced. Lung cancer symptoms may include:

  • Coughing that gets worse or does not go away,
  • Chest pain,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Wheezing,
  • Coughing up blood,
  • Feeling very tired all time, and/or
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Screening with low-dose spiral computed tomography (LDCT) can reduce lung cancer deaths by about 20%, compared to standard chest x-ray among current or former heavy smokers.

Lung cancer screening is recommended if you:

  • Are between the ages of 50 and 80.
  • Have 20 pack-year history, which is defined as:
    • You smoke or smoked one pack a day for 20 years.
    • You smoke or smoked two packs a day for 10 years.
  • Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

Talk to your doctor about getting a lung cancer screening. You can stop screening once you have not smoked for 15 years, or if you have a health problem that limits life expectancy or your ability to have lung surgery.

Treatment is usually most successful when cancer is detected early. 

Lung cancer treatment options include:

  • Surgery,
  • Chemotherapy,
  • Radiation, and/or
  • Targeted cancer therapies. 

Small cell and non-small cell lung cancers are treated in different ways. Talk to your cancer doctor about the treatment options available for your type and stage of cancer. Your doctor can explain the risks and benefits of each treatment and their side effects.

Lung Cancer in North Carolina

Lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths in North Carolina in 2020 (5,019 deaths). It is estimated that 9,247 people in North Carolina will be diagnosed with lung cancer and 5,671 people will die from lung cancer in 2022. 

Since 2000, the rates of new lung cancer cases and lung cancer deaths have decreased in North Carolina. However, the North Carolina rates are still higher than the national rates.

NC Cancer Resource Hub

Tips to Reduce Your Risk

  • Quit tobacco and vaping use. Quitting takes practice! Coaching and medications can triple your chances of quitting for good.
  • Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Test your home for radon. Radon is a gas that can be in the soil and ground water. Homes in all 100 counties have tested at high levels for radon. The only way to know is to test.
  • Be aware of workplace environmental hazards. Avoid exposure to cancer-causing chemicals or substances. Follow safety procedures.
  • Get a lung cancer screening, if eligible.
  • Know your family health history, including cancer illnesses and deaths.
  • Eat healthy. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Drink more water and fewer sugar-sweetened beverages. Create meal plans to cook at home.
  • Be physically active. Strive to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days week and strength training at least twice a week.