Lung Cancer: What Causes It?
Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. It accounts for about 80 percent of lung cancers. However, there are other environmental causes, including radon, and genetic alterations that lead to lung cancer.
How We Screen
There are now screening tools available that can detect lung cancer in the earlier, more curable stage. The most effective of these is a low-dose lung CT, which improves mortality by detecting the cancer early.
To learn more about screening, read “What Does a Positive Lung Cancer Screening Mean?”
Quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risk. About 15 years after quitting, the risk becomes close to non-smokers. It does, however, take at least a few attempts for most people to quit. There are many excellent programs available and multiple new medications that help with smoking cessation (1-800-QuitNow, http://www.tobacco-cessation.org/).
As far as the treatment is concerned, there has been a lot of improvement in available therapies.
We can cure localized disease with surgery or radiation, with and without chemotherapy. For metastatic or stage IV disease, we turn to systemic treatment. In addition to chemotherapy, there are several very effective targeted agents if a patient’s cancer harbors a specific mutation. We find these mutations more often in patients who have never smoked, as opposed to patients who smoke or smoked heavily. Immunotherapy is also effective and has improved survival of patients.
The Vermont Lung Center is conducting many studies to advance cancer care, promoting bench research and bringing the discoveries to bedside.
Lung cancer can present in many different ways, ranging from relatively asymptomatic disease, to unexplained weight loss, night sweats, persistent cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing.
Some patients develop abnormalities in blood electrolyte levels, confusion, and bone pain. It is important to catch it earlier in its development as the later stages of this disease are harder to treat. Ignoring this constellation of symptoms could mean the difference between life and death.
Hibba Tul Rehman, MD, is a hematologist and oncologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center. She is also an assistant professor of medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.