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Lung Cancer Awareness: Could that cough actually be cancer?

While smoking is the number 1 cause of lung cancer, not all people with lung cancer are, or were, smokers. In fact, 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer deaths are the result of other causes.

Lung cancer (both small cell and non-small cell) is the second most common cancer in both men and women. Experts expect to diagnose about 221,000 new cases of lung cancer this year. And, it’s deadly. Each year, more people die of lung cancer that of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.  

Are you at risk?

There are a few factors other than smoking that are thought to cause additional risk for lung cancer. Exposure to:

  • radon
  • secondhand smoke
  • asbestos
  • radiation therapy
  • combustion products
  • other carcinogens

Even if you haven’t been exposed to the items listed above, you may still develop lung cancer. Doctors are still researching why, with inconclusive results. The one thing we hear over and over is to be aware of your risk, and watch out for the signs and symptoms.

Possible signs of lung cancer include:

  • chest discomfort or pain
  • a cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse over time
  • trouble breathing
  • wheezing
  • coughing up blood
  • hoarseness
  • loss of appetite and/or weight loss for no known reason
  • feeling very tired
  • trouble swallowing
  • swelling in the face and/or veins in the neck

Sometimes lung cancer does not cause any symptoms and is found during a chest x-ray done for another condition.

Lung cancer is difficult to diagnose because the main symptoms are the same or very similar to other common symptoms. Often, doctors are looking for everything but cancer when you experience a cough and shortness of breath. The most important thing is to know your own body and trust your gut. Make sure you are your own health advocate, and that additional tests and screenings are performed to eliminate all possibilities.

Our lung cancer profiler will help to assess your risk. Take the profiler here.

This article first appeared in the November 2015 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.

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