Lung Cancer Overview: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Prevention  

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/12/2018

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According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer among both men and women. Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death each year, ending more lives than prostate, breast, and colon cancer combined. There are about 223,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year in the United States.

What causes lung cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, there are two main types of lung cancer; each has different symptoms, causes, treatments, and prognoses.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC):

  • NSCLC is the most common type, accounting for 80% to 85% of lung cancers.
  • Smoking is by far the leading cause. (Up to 80% of cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking.)

Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC):

  • SCLC accounts for about 10% to 15% of new lung cancer
  • Smoking is the leading cause, but exposure to radon, asbestos, and other workplace chemicals may be a factor.

What are common lung cancer symptoms?

Lung cancer can go undetected because there may not be any symptoms. It may have already spread widely and be at an advanced stage when it is first detected. The symptoms are the same for all types:

  • A new cough that won’t go away
  • A change or worsening in a persistent smoker’s cough
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath; wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness; a raspy or “husky” voice
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Bone pain, headaches
  • Fatigue, lack of energy
  • Swelling of the face or neck
  • Repeated pneumonia or bronchitis

While smoking is the number-one risk factor for developing lung cancer, your risk may also increase if any of the following applies to you:

  • Extensive exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Exposure to radon, asbestos, diesel fuel, or known carcinogens such as arsenic, nickel, or chromium
  • Parent, child, or sibling diagnosed with lung cancer

If you are a smoker, or have any other major risk factors, and have any symptoms of lung cancer, see your doctor right away for the best chance at early detection and treatment.

What can I do to prevent lung cancer?

The National Cancer Institute warns that you can’t always prevent lung cancer, but you might be able to lower your risk.  The number one thing you can do for lung cancer prevention is to never smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If you currently smoke, quit—get help from your doctor if you can’t do it on your own. Quitting reduces your risk of lung cancer even if you’re a long-term smoker. If you live with a smoker, encourage him or her to quit, or at least to smoke outdoors. Avoid second-hand smoke in restaurants and bars. Have your home tested for radon and protect yourself from chemical exposure at work.

Is there Medicare coverage for lung cancer screening and treatment?

Lung cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer you have, the size and location of your tumor(s), and whether or not the cancer has spread. If you are enrolled in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) and receive treatment for lung cancer as an inpatient in the hospital, Part A will pay allowable charges for your care including prescription drugs as part of your inpatient treatment. Doctor visits, tests, and outpatient therapies are covered under Part B. Coverage for prescription drugs is generally only available through a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan.

If you are a smoker, you may be eligible to receive smoking cessation counseling sessions at no cost to you if your health-care provider accepts Medicare assignment. In addition, you may qualify for a lung cancer screening test: a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan. Medicare Part B may cover one LDCT scan per year if you meet all the following requirements:

  • You are between ages 55 and 77 and have no current symptoms of lung cancer.
  • You are a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years.
  • You have smoked the equivalent of one pack per day or more for 30 years.

If you have questions about Medicare coverage of lung cancer symptoms or lung cancer prevention, I’m happy to help you. You can get information by email or schedule a phone call by clicking the appropriate link below. Click the “Compare Plans” button to see a list of plans in your area you may qualify for.

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