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Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine

Fact sheet

What is the lung?
What is lung cancer?
How common is lung cancer?
Who is at risk of getting lung cancer?
How do you prevent lung cancer?
What is the screening test for lung cancer?
What are the symptoms for lung cancer?
Where can I get more information?

What is the lung?
The lungs are spongy organs in the chest that bring air into the body through special airways.  The lungs are necessary to get oxygen into the body and waste products out.

What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer occurs when cells in the lungs and airways grow out of control. A group of abnormal cells together can form a malignant (cancerous) tumor.  Most lung cancers are caused by smoking.

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How common is lung cancer?
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer among both men and women in the US, and it’s the number one cancer killer. Over 160,000 Americans die of lung cancer each year. To compare this with other cancers, click here.

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Who is at risk of getting lung cancer?
Anyone can get lung cancer, but it is rare in nonsmokers. Smoking causes most lung cancers, and ninety percent of lung cancer occurs in smokers. Risk goes up with age, and the average age of diagnosis is 70.

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How do you prevent lung cancer?
The single best way to prevent lung cancer is not to smoke. If you smoke, quit for good as soon as possible. Not long after you quit, your risk of lung cancer begins to drop. After 10 years of not smoking, the risk of lung cancer is about 50% lower compared to continued smokers and continues to decrease with time.

In addition to not smoking:
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid second-hand smoke (smoke from other people's cigarettes and cigars)
  • Avoid exposure to chemicals (like asbestos) that can cause lung cancer
Click here for a list of things that affect lung cancer.

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What is the screening test?
There is no good screening test to find lung cancer in its early stages. If you're concerned about lung cancer, talk to a doctor about your risk.

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What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
Lung cancer often does not cause symptoms for many years. But as the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
  • A persistent cough
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Spit or phlegm that is bloody or rust-colored
  • Shortness of breath
  • Repeated bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis
These symptoms may also be caused by something less serious like an infection. Only a doctor can know for sure. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to a doctor immediately.

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For more information on lung cancer, visit these web sites: Back to top