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Facts About Lung Cancer

written by: Jason C. Chavis • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 5/17/2011

Lung cancer is a disease caused by smoke, radiation, asbestos, and viruses. This guide will give you the necessary information to understand the basic facts so you avoid the risk factors and understand the impact this major disease has on the population.

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    General Facts About the Disease

    One of the most important facts about lung cancer is the divergent levels of symptoms impacting victims of the disease. Depending on the status of the disease, different symptoms can help doctors make a determination leading to diagnosis. Some of the most overt symptoms of this cancer include shortness of breath, coughing up blood, and chest pain. The effects of this condition will develop in different sections of the lungs, resulting in airway constriction as well as other problems. Occasionally, the cancer, if developed deep in the lungs, will spread to other parts of the human body. For example, nervous system problems and excessive sweating can exist with those suffering from expansive cancers.

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    What Can Cause It?

    Different carcinogens, particularly those from smoke, are the leading causes of lung cancer. Additional components such as radiation and viruses can also cause the disease. Basically, tissues exposed to large amounts of these factors suffer damage to the bronchi and ultimately change the DNA itself. This makes the cell growth control factors fail, leading to cancer.

    According to a 2006 study conducted by the University of Oxford, 90 percent of lung cancer deaths are attributed directly to smoke, most notably tobacco smoke. Over the course of a person's lifetime, smokers have a 14.4 percent chance of developing lung cancer, while nonsmokers only have a 1.3 percent chance.

    The United States Environmental Protection Agency has found that radon gas is responsible for the second-highest rate of cancer in the country. Approximately one in 15 homes has levels above the recommended guidelines. Overall, radon gas has been shown to raise lung cancer risk by 50 percent in individuals exposed to the toxin.

    Other factors also contribute to major levels of lung cancer throughout the world. Roughly three percent of all lung cancer deaths stem from asbestos exposure. Likewise, viruses such as the human papillomavirus have been shown to contribute to high levels of lung cancer.

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    How Doctors Diagnose the Cancer

    X-ray of lung cancer 

    A variety of technologies can be used to help physicians make a diagnosis from the signs of lung cancer in patients. The most common of these is a chest x-ray, which uses radiation to make an image of the lungs' interior. Additional tools such as bronchoscopy, a device inserted into the lung cavity, and computed tomography (CT) scans. Biopsies and cell examinations can also be utilized to identify the existence of lung cancer. Most commonly, this technique is used to analyze the discharges of possible victims. One of the major facts about lung cancer diagnosis is that physicians generally use the symptoms of the patient to warrant testing.

    Right: X-ray of lung cancer. (Supplied by Lange123 at Wikimedia; GNU Free Documentation License; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bf/Thorax_pa_peripheres_Bronchialcarcinom_li_OF_markiert.jpg)

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    Resources

    “Facts About Lung Cancer" Illinois Department of Public Health, http://www.idph.state.il.us/about/womenshealth/factsheets/lung.htm

    “Lung Cancer in the United States: Facts" National Lung Cancer Partnership, http://www.nationallungcancerpartnership.org/index.cfm?page=lung_cancer_facts_US

    “Fast Facts on Lung Cancer" ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/OnCall/story?id=643073&page=1