The lungs are part of the respiratory system. The right lung has three sections, called lobes; it is a little larger than the left lung, which has two lobes. The lungs function by taking in oxygen when a person inhales and releasing carbon dioxide when a person exhales.
Lung cancer begins when normal cells undergo changes leading to abnormal growth. Cancers that begin in the lungs are divided into two major types, non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, depending on how the cells look under a microscope. Each type of lung cancer grows and spreads in different ways and is treated differently.
Non-small cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer, and it generally grows and spreads more slowly. Small cell lung cancer, sometimes called oat cell cancer, is less common than non-small cell lung cancer. This type of lung cancer grows more quickly and is more likely to spread to other organs in the body.
Facts about lung cancer in New Mexico
Information on the number of new cases (incidence) and deaths (mortality) attributable to lung cancer can be found on the New Mexico Tumor Registry
Data on lung cancer incidence and mortality rates in New Mexico can be accessed by age, race and ethnicity and can be accessed by county, region or statewide on that site, as well.
Who is at risk of developing lung cancer?
People who smoke have a much higher risk of developing lung cancer than those who don’t smoke. The more a person smokes, the higher the risk of getting lung cancer. Cigarette smoking is responsible for almost 90% of lung cancers.
Secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in adults who have never smoked themselves.1 As with active smoking, there is a relationship between secondhand smoke exposure and lung cancer – the longer the duration and the higher the level of exposure, the greater the risk of developing lung cancer.
If you are a heavy smoker, beta carotene (Vitamin A) supplements may increase your risk of lung cancer.
In addition to smokers, people who have been exposed to asbestos and radon are at higher risk of developing lung cancer.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
By the time symptoms appear, lung cancer is usually fairly advanced. According to the National Cancer Institute, symptoms may include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away and gets worse over time
- Constant non-cardiac chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness
- Repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis
- Swelling of the neck and face
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
Because these symptoms may be caused by lung cancer or by some other condition, be sure to check with a doctor. For additional information on a diagnosis of lung cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute website.
Can I reduce my risk for lung cancer?
Cigarette smoking has been definitely established as the primary cause of lung cancer. If you are a smoker, quitting is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of getting lung cancer. Secondhand smoke can also cause lung cancer, so reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke by not allowing smoking in your home or car. 1
For information on how to quit smoking, visit New Mexico’s free tobacco helpline. Or call the helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669); TTY 1-888-229-2182.
What is cancer screening?
Screening is when a test is used to look for a disease before there are any symptoms. Cancer screening tests are effective when they can detect disease early. For some cancers, detecting disease early can lead to more effective treatment and better outcomes. In other cases, the risks associated with screening and treatment may be greater than the benefits.
The Comprehensive Cancer Program promotes screening recommendations made by the CDC and the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The benefit of screening for lung cancer has not been established in any group, including high-risk groups like older smokers. The USPSTF found that the benefits of screening for lung cancer may be outweighed by the potential harm caused. If you are concerned about lung cancer, talk with your doctor.
Screening tests are different from diagnostic tests. Diagnostic tests are used when a person has symptoms, and tests are intended to find out what is causing the symptoms.
What should I know about screening for lung cancer?
- Several ways to detect lung cancer have been studied as possible screening tests. So far, screening healthy people without symptoms of lung cancer has not been shown to reduce the number of lung cancer deaths.
- While research is ongoing to find an effective screening test for lung cancer, at present the single most important step to reduce risks of developing lung cancer is to avoid tobacco products.
- If you are at risk for lung cancer, talk to your doctor.
- For more information on screening for lung cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute website.
Additional lung cancer resources
1. US Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006.