Lung cancer is commonly associated with people who smoke, but the reality is not everyone who smokes gets cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women (not counting skin cancer) and is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

Most lung cancers do not cause any symptoms until they have spread, but some people with early lung cancer do have symptoms. If you go to your doctor when you first notice symptoms, your cancer might be diagnosed at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be effective. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • A cough that does not go away or gets worse.
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
  • Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
  • New onset of wheezing

If lung cancer spreads to distant organs, it could cause:

  • Bone pain (like pain in the back or hips)
  • Nervous system changes (such as headache, weakness or numbness of an arm or leg, dizziness, balance problems or seizures), from cancer spread to the brain or spinal cord
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), from cancer spread to the liver
  • Lumps near the surface of the body, due to cancer spreading to the skin or to lymph nodes (collections of immune system cells), such as those in the neck or above the collarbone

Most of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by something other than lung cancer. Still, if you have any of these problems, it’s important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

In addition, lung cancer screening with low-dose CT scans and appropriate follow-up care significantly reduces lung cancer deaths. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening of adults ages 55 to 80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. This screening will save lives. If you or someone you know falls into this category, it is important to consider participating in this screening program.

David Lange, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician at Ascension Medical Group at Westwood, 1901 Westwood Center Blvd. in Wausau. For more information, visit ascension.org/wisconsin or call 715-355-9775.