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Causes and Risks

As you know, lung cancer is a serious disease that is often linked to smoking. However, even non-smokers are at risk. That's because lung cancer can result from a lifetime of exposure to many things all around us, including secondhand smoke and radon gas in the soil that can contaminate the air indoors.

In fact, there are lots of other causes that would also make doctors look at, or screen, people more closely because they may be at risk. After a screening, some people may need to undergo more tests. This helps the healthcare team make the correct diagnosis and know which treatment approach is best for you. To learn more about the types of diagnostic tests, please see the section "Mutation Testing."

Lung cancer is:

  • The 2nd most commonly diagnosed cancer
  • The leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Canada for both men and women

It is estimated that in 2015:

  • 28,600 Canadians were diagnosed with lung cancer
  • 21,100 Canadians died from lung cancer

CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS

People may be at risk of lung cancer depending on their type of industry or workplace, such as mines, mills, or some textile plants.

Some other causes of cancer include

  • Asbestos
  • Radioactive minerals such as uranium
  • Inhaling certain chemicals or compounds such as arsenic, coal products, vinyl chloride, among others
  • Diesel exhaust

Fortunately, there have been updated regulations and policies to protect workers and improve safety in the workplace. If you work in this type of environment, it's always a good idea to have routine check-ups with your doctor.


SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (CTFPHC) has guidelines that make it easier to determine who should be screened based on their risk of lung cancer. But every case of lung cancer is unique, so symptoms may vary from patient to patient. What's more, by the time symptoms are noticed, the lung cancer may be in an advanced stage. To learn more about how lung cancer progresses, please see the section "Staging lung cancer."

When lung cancer is found early, it's often found by chance. A person may be treated for another condition, or having a routine procedure, when the doctor may notice something unusual on a chest x-ray or other diagnostic test. When lung cancer is diagnosed this early, treatment is more likely to be effective.

Lung cancer symptoms seen may include, but are not limited to:

  • Coughing that does not go away or gets worse
  • pain in the chest that gets worse with coughs, deep breathing, or laughing
  • losing weight, not being hungry
  • trouble catching your breath
  • coughing up blood or rust-colored spit or phlegm
  • being tired
  • new onset of wheezing

Always see your doctor if you have any concerns. They will know how to help guide you through the next steps.


SCREENING FOR LUNG CANCER

A screening is when a doctor looks for signs of lung cancer before any symptoms appear. If cancer is discovered and treated early, the chances of successful treatment are better. At the moment, there's only one test that's recommended for lung cancer screening. It's called a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). An x-ray machine uses small amounts of radiation to create detailed scans of the lungs.

The CTFPHC has guidelines in place to help doctors determine who may be at risk. These include people who:

  • Have smoked 30 pack-years
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years
  • Are between 50 and 74 years old

According to the CTFPHC, 30 pack-years means that the person has smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for a year for 30 years or two packs of cigarettes a day for 15 years.