Lung Cancer and You: What You Need to Know

  • November 25, 2015

Lung Cancer and You: What You Need to Know

African-Americans, especially men, are disproportionately affected by lung cancer and are more likely to die from lung cancer than people of any other race or ethnicity in the US. While the exact reason is unknown, it is thought to be a reflection of social and economic disparities more than biological differences associated with race. Socioeconomic disparities include inequities in work, wealth, income, education, housing and overall standard of living, as well as barriers to high-quality cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment services.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 221,200 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed (115,610 in men and 105,590 in women) in the U.S. in 2015 and 158,040 deaths from lung cancer (86,380 in men and 71,660 among women). Overall, the chance that a man will develop lung cancer in his lifetime is about 1 in 13; for a woman, the risk is about 1 in 16. Black men are about 20% more likely to develop lung cancer than white men. The rate of lung cancer is about 10% lower in black women than in white women, and black and white women both have lower rates of lung cancer than men but the gap is closing.

It is a common held belief that only smokers get lung cancer. In actuality while the risk for a smoker to develop lung cancer is significantly higher, according to the American Cancer Society as many as 20% of the people who die from lung cancer in the United States every year do not smoke or use any other form of tobacco.

There are a number of important steps you can take towards prevention, early detection and treatment to help protect your lung health.

Easy Preventative Actions to Take Today

  1. Embrace a healthy lifestyle Keeping your body in its best shape, eating a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables, and getting plenty of rest and exercise will contribute to your overall health and may also help to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer and many other diseases.
  2. Limit your and your family’s exposure, especially children, to secondhand smoke Being exposed to secondhand smoke, or smoke from the lighted end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar and/or the smoke exhaled by a smoker, is considered a risk factor for lung and other types of cancers in both adults and children. According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report, there have been more than 20 million smoking-related deaths in the United States since 1964; 2.5 million of those deaths were among non-smokers who died from exposure to secondhand smoke. During that same time, 100,000 babies have died due to parental smoking, including smoking during pregnancy. The only way to fully protect non-smokers from exposure to secondhand smoke is to prevent all smoking indoors and in the car.
  3. If you smoke, stop. If you don’t smoke, don’t start First and foremost, if you smoke, you need to quit today. Male smokers are about 25 times more likely and female smokers are about 26 times more likely to get lung cancer than men and women who have never smoked. There’s no safe way to smoke. Menthol cigarettes are just as dangerous as non-menthol cigarettes. There are lots of resources available for stopping smoking and Whittier in partnership with Dana-Farber Cancer Care offers smoking cessation programs. Contact Dana-Farber Cancer Care Program for additional information: (617) 632-5335.
  4. Talk to your children about the dangers of smoking Talk to your children about not smoking so that they can understand how to avoid this major risk factor for lung cancer.

Detection, Symptoms and Risks of Lung Cancer

The early detection and prompt treatment of lung cancer has been linked to increased survival rates and better outcomes. Unfortunately, early detection is exceedingly difficult. Roughly 25% of the time lung cancer causes no outward symptoms. Most early diagnosed lung cancers are detected as secondary findings.

Symptoms of lung cancer to be aware of can include:

  • Persistent cough or changes in a cough
  • Breathing changes or difficulty breathing, wheezing
  • Pain in the chest area (shoulder, upper back) or pain when coughing
  • Hoarseness or raspy voice
  • Reoccurring lung infections

While an individual’s particular risk for lung cancer is often a complex combination of behavioral, environmental, and biological factors, the following increases your risk of lung cancer:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to radon gas (a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally in rocks and soil and may become trapped in homes or buildings. Homes can be tested for radon)
  • Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens
  • Family history of lung cancer

It is important to talk with your health care provider if you have any concerns about your health and it is vital to share your smoking history and/or exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, asbestos and other carcinogens.

Types of Lung Cancers and Treatments

There are two main types of lung cancer: Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer with about 85% of lung cancers being non-small cell lung cancers; and Small cell lung cancer, also called oat cell cancer, accounts for 10%-15% of lung cancers. Treatments for lung cancer can include: surgery, radiation or chemotherapy depending on the type of cancer and stage (staging describes where a cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting the other parts of the body).

For More Information

Whittier Street Health Center provides comprehensive preventative care and disease management and our physicians can assess your health risks and provide you with individualized treatment options. We also have a specialty partnership with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Cancer Care.

Dana-Farber Cancer Care provides expert second opinions for known malignancies and efficient diagnostic work-ups of suspected malignancies. Your primary care doctor or other health care provider may coordinate your care with Dana-Farber Cancer Care if you:

  • Received abnormal results from a test that relates to cancer
  • Were treated for cancer in the past but do not have a doctor involved in your cancer care now
  • May be at risk for cancer

Dana-Farber Cancer Care Lung Cancer Screenings for Whittier Patients

If you are 55 years or older and have smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or more, or have other risk factors such as exposure to asbestos or radon you are eligible for a no cost lung cancer screening:

  • Consultation with one of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Oncologists
  • Referral to our smoking cessation counselor for individualized one-on-one smoking cessation counseling.
  • Free low dose CT scan at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

For more information regarding Dana-Farber Cancer Care, please contact Ludmila Svoboda, RN, BSN, MA, OCN (617)-632-5335 (pager# 46573).


American Cancer Society Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2013-2014

SEER Cancer Statistics Factsheets: Lung and Bronchus Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD

Additional Resources

Centers for Disease Control
American Cancer Society

Additional Quitting Smoking Resources


A note about Whittier and COVID-19

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in our area, we ask all clients and patients to call ahead before coming to any of our sites. We are working to take care of most clients/patients via phone/video encounter so we can meet your ongoing healthcare needs. This is for your safety and so we can provide the highest quality of care to you while following CDC guidance for COVID-19. Please call 617-427-1000 for any questions or concerns.

Whittier will provide COVID-19 testing from 10 am to 4 pm on Monday to Friday. Following CDC guidance, we recommend testing if you have a fever AND one of the following three symptoms: cough OR shortness of breath OR sore throat. Please bring your picture identification and your insurance card (if you have insurance).