Lung cancer is a disease caused by abnormal (cancerous) cells in the lungs. These cells multiply, destroy normal cells, and prevent the lungs from working properly. In addition, lung cancer can easily spread to other organs (metastasis).
Lung cancer doesn't cause symptoms in the early stages of the disease. As the cancer grows, certain symptoms may appear, such as the following:
- Persistent coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Presence of blood in the spit
- Arm and shoulder pain
- Weight loss
- Voice changes
Lung cancer symptoms can be similar to those of other diseases, which can make it difficult to detect.
Causes and triggers
Tobacco use, whether in the form of smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, is by far the leading cause of lung cancer. People with chronic lung disease (e.g., emphysema) have a greater risk of developing lung cancer. Other risk factors include exposure to the following:
- Secondhand smoke
- Radon (a gas that can accumulate in homes)
- Asbestos or other chemical substances
Lung cancer treatment depends on the type, location, and size of the cancer, as well as the general health of the patient. A person with lung cancer may undergo the following treatments:
- Radiation therapy
Lung cancer prevention involves reducing exposure to various risk factors. Quitting smoking is the most important thing a person can do to prevent lung cancer.
If you want to quit smoking, contact your health care provider. You'll be offered tailored support according to your needs.
When should I see a health care professional?
Speak with your health care provider in the following cases:
- You develop a persistent cough and shortness of breath, even at rest
- You have treated or untreated lung cancer and you notice the following:
- Swelling of your neck and face accompanied by headaches
- Weakness in your legs accompanied by back pain