5 Surprising Facts About Lung Cancer

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Chris Illiades, MD on October 16, 2021
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    What don’t you know about lung cancer?
    You probably know that smoking causes lung cancer. You also may know that lung cancer can be deadly. In fact, it's the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. Lung cancer kills more Americans than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined. Here are five surprising facts about lung cancer that you might not know.
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    1. Lung cancer rates are going down.
    The first surprising fact is good news: Fewer people today are getting lung cancer. That's true for both men and women. People smoke less today than in the past. But, you need to have stopped smoking for quite a few years before your risk falls. People 55 to 80 years old who were heavy smokers should continue to get lung cancer screenings for at least 15 years after stopping smoking.
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    2. Heavy smoking is measured in pack years.
    Your doctor might want you to have a lung cancer screening test called a CT scan if you are a heavy smoker. The way doctors determine heavy smoking is by pack years. If you smoke one pack of cigarettes every day for one year, you have one pack year of smoking. A pack a day for 30 years would be 30 pack years. People who've smoked that much have the highest risk of lung cancer. But, even smoking now and then or smoking a few cigarettes a day increases your risk of lung cancer.

    Medicare and insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act cover annual lung cancer screening for people ages 50 to 80 with a 20 pack-year smoking history, even if they've quit smoking 15 years ago. (Smokers who quit 16 or more years ago who want a CT would need to pay for it.)
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    3. Nonsmokers also get lung cancer.
    Although 9 out of 10 people who get lung cancer are smokers, there are other causes. These include secondhand smoke, air pollution, radon gas, asbestos exposure, and diesel fumes. In fact, just counting the nonsmokers who die from lung cancer still puts lung cancer among the top 10 causes of death from cancer.
  • Radon Test Kit
    4. Radon gas may be silent, but it's deadly.
    After smoking, the next most common cause of lung cancer isn't secondhand smoke. It's not air pollution, either. It's radon gas. Radon has no smell, color or taste. It's a naturally occurring gas that comes from radioactive activity in soil and rock. That’s why detectors usually find it in basements. About one of every 15 houses has high levels of radon. If you have not had your house tested yet, now is the time.
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    5. One type of lung cancer has a high survival rate.
    There are three types of lung cancer. Small cell and non-small cell are the most common. The survival rate for either one is low if the cancer isn't caught early. However, a third type has a very good survival rate. It's called lung carcinoid tumor. This type of lung cancer makes up less than 5% of all lung cancers. Carcinoid lung cancer grows slowly. It rarely spreads outside the lung. Five-year survival is very high.
5 Surprising Facts About Lung Cancer
  1. American Lung Association, Lung Cancer Fact Sheet. http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/lung-cancer/resources/facts-figures/lung-cancer-fact-sheet.html?ref...
  2. CDC, Basic Information About Lung Cancer (and links). http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/index.htm
  3. American Cancer Society, Lung Cancer Risks for Nonsmokers. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/why-lung-cancer-strikes-nonsmokers
  4. American Cancer Society, Lung Cancer (follow links for 5 year survival). http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer/
  5. US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for Lung Cancer : US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement . JAMA. 2021;325(10):962–970. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.1117
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Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 16
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.