Expert shares what to know


Read on to learn more about lung cancer, its causes, and key warning signs. (Photo via Getty Images)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Check with a qualified medical professional before engaging in physical activity or making any changes to your diet, medication, or lifestyle.

For years, more and more Canadians have been confronted with the often deadly diagnosis of lung cancer. The condition can be difficult to detect and thus difficult to treat.

Nearly 100 people are expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer every day in Canada, which is a worrying statistic.

For Lung Cancer Awareness Month, which is recognized in November, YahooCanada spoke with dr. Susanna Yee-Shan Cheng, medical oncologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, on the condition and how to prevent it.

Read on to learn more about lung cancer, its causes, and key warning signs.

doctor points to a picture of an x-ray of the lungs

Lung cancers are usually grouped into two main types, small cell and non-small cell. (Photo via Getty Images)

What is Lung Cancer?

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, “lung cancer starts in the lung cells” and when it starts in lung cells, “it’s called primary lung cancer.”

Lung cancers are usually grouped into two main types, small cell and non-small cell.

Non-small cell lung cancer usually starts in glandular cells on the outside of the lung, and small cell lung cancer usually starts in cells lining the bronchi in the center of the lungs. Non-small cell is more common.

While lung cancer may not be as common as skin or breast cancer, Cheng says it’s the mortality rate that’s concerning.

“Lung cancer is actually the leading cause of cancer death. It’s common, but it’s actually mortality that’s the biggest problem.”Dr. Susanna Cheng

“Lung cancer is actually the number one cause of death,” says Cheng. “It’s common, but it’s actually mortality that’s the biggest problem. Stage by stage, lung cancer is prognostically worse than most cancers.”

What Causes Lung Cancer?

Cheng says smoking is the “number one cause” of lung cancer. According to Lung Cancer Canada, the majority of lung cancer cases — about 85 percent — are directly related to smoking tobacco, especially cigarettes.

Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by:

• Causing genetic changes in the cells of the lungs

• Damage to the lungs’ normal cleansing process, which removes foreign and harmful particles

• Carcinogenic particles settle in the mucus and develop into cancerous tumours

However, Cheng reveals that there is a “growing number of non-smokers”.

man smoking a cigarette outside

Smoking is the “number one cause” of lung cancer, according to Cheng. (Photo via Getty Images)

“In particular, we now see patients who have never smoked or who have never passive smoked develop lung cancer, which is interesting because smoking is usually a leading cause,” explains Cheng. “There are some patients who never smoke and may have no reason to get lung cancer, so that’s the worrying part.”

Cheng says “we don’t know why” nonsmokers get lung cancer, so more research needs to be done. However, her best guess is that it is “related to certain hormones.”

That said, the main focus on lung cancer screening is for people with a history of smoking and who are between the ages of 55 and 70.

Unfortunately, Cheng adds that “the system doesn’t allow screening of never-smokers.”

“We are now seeing patients who have never smoked or who have never passive smoked develop lung cancer.”Dr. Susanna Cheng

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

In the early stages, lung cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms. As the tumor grows and causes changes in the body, it usually results in coughing and shortness of breath.

However, if you have any of the signs and symptoms below related to lung cancer, it is important that you see a doctor or medical professional as soon as possible:

  • A cough that gets worse or doesn’t go away

  • shortness of breath

  • Chest pain that you can always feel, and that gets worse with deep breathing or coughing

  • Blood in mucus coughed up from the lungs

  • Wheezing

  • Weight loss

  • Fatigue

  • Hoarseness or other changes in your voice

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or above the collarbone

  • Headache

Cheng notes that she usually sees “coughing, infection, or pneumonia” as precursors to lung cancer.

However, she reveals that “COVID has called it a day”.

“Nowadays if someone has COVID, they can cough for weeks,” she says. “Some sometimes can’t really tell what the symptoms are for, which can make it difficult to diagnose at first.”

Male doctor examining patient in hospital gown who is coughing

A cough that gets worse or doesn’t go away is a major sign of lung cancer. (Photo via Getty Images)

She adds that coughing, shortness of breath (especially with exercise), unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, chest pain, and hoarse voice are other possible warning signs of lung cancer.

“In smokers, they may always have a chronic cough, but in non-smokers, they may never have a cough or develop it over time, which can delay a diagnosis of lung cancer,” Cheng adds.

How is lung cancer diagnosed and treated?

Lung cancer is usually diagnosed after a visit to your primary care doctor, who will ask you about your health history, symptoms, and perform a physical exam. You may also have a blood test, or an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan.

If lung cancer is diagnosed, other tests are done to find out how far it has spread through the lungs, lymph nodes, and the rest of the body. This process is called staging.

Screening for lung cancer is another important step that can help detect the condition early. With lung cancer, early detection is vital. The sooner the disease is diagnosed, the greater the chance of survival.

“It’s a pity that people who don’t smoke aren’t really screened yet, but hopefully soon.”Dr. Susanna Cheng

“It’s a pity that people who don’t smoke aren’t really screened yet, but hopefully soon,” says Cheng.

In terms of treatment, Cheng thinks things are moving in the right direction.

“In the last 20 years, things have changed significantly. Before, we only had chemotherapy, but now it is based on their pathology and their genetic mutations, which predicts what kind of treatment they will receive, such as immunotherapy and targeted drugs,” explains Cheng .

Smoking woman against a black background with a poster with black lungs on it.

Quit smoking to reduce your risk of lung cancer. (Photo via Getty Images)

How can I prevent or reduce the risk of lung cancer?

Unfortunately, not all lung cancers can be prevented. However, there are things you can do to help prevent the development of the condition, such as changing the risk factors you can control.

Cheng says the first thing you can do is quit smoking.

“Really, don’t smoke and try not to be around a loved one who smokes, because secondhand smoke is also very real,” she says.

Cheng adds that there aren’t many risk factors related to diet or alcohol, but keep an eye out for “occupational exposure.”

“Look at occupational exposures like Ephesus. You could also check for radon in your home, but there’s not much you can do beyond that,” she explains.

Let us know what you think by commenting below and tweeting @YahooStyleCA! follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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