Health A to Z

Lung cancer

With one in 12 Canadians developing lung cancer in their lifetime, learn what you need to know about this impartial killer.

lung cancer causes symptoms treatments

More Canadians are diagnosed with lung cancer than any other kind of cancer: One in 12 will develop the disease at some point in their lives and it kills more women than any other cancer, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. The most common type of lung cancer — non-small cell lung cancer — usually spreads more slowly than small cell lung cancer, which grows quickly and often spreads to distant parts of the body.

Lung cancer causes Smoking causes most lung cancers; however, people who have never smoked or are former smokers can also develop the disease. Lung cancer can also be caused by second-hand smoke; radon, a gas found in basements; and asbestos, a mineral found in some workplaces and homes and toxic products. A family history of lung cancer may also increase your risk of developing the disease.

Lung cancer symptoms Lung cancer is identifiable through symptoms including a cough that doesn’t go away and gets worse over time; persistent chest pain, coughing up blood, feeling short of breath, wheezing, loss of voice (hoarseness), pneumonia and bronchitis, swollen neck and face, lack of appetite or unexplained weight loss, and fatigue.

Lung cancer diagnosis/tests If you or your doctor suspects that you may have lung cancer or wants to rule it out, she will examine you, ask about your medical history, including whether you have smoked or have a family history of the disease. Then she may send you for a chest X-ray or other tests, which may include a CT scan (Computerized Axial Tomography), which is a detailed X-ray; sputum analysis, to collect your phlegm or sputum and test it for cancer cells; bronchoscopy, which involves being sedated while the doctor inserts a tube into your lungs through your nose to look for tumours. If there is a tumour, she may send you for a needle biopsy to collect a piece of the tumour to examine it.

Lung cancer treatment How lung cancer is treated depends on the type and stage of the disease. Surgery may be necessary to remove a lung, or part of a lung. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also be part of the treatment regimen.

Lung cancer prevention To lower your risk don’t smoke or quit for good; maintain a healthy weight with a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables; exercise regularly and avoid environmental risk factors, such as radon, asbestos and air pollution.

More info from Chatelaine
Breathe easy
The great health resolution
Two views: Quit smoking

Outside resources
The Lung Association
Lung Cancer Canada
Canadian Cancer Society