Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in Canada. In 2020, it was estimated that, every day, an average of 81 Canadians will be diagnosed with lung cancer, and 58 Canadians will die from it. One reason why lung cancer is so deadly is that almost half of lung cancer diagnoses are made when it is already at stage 4 (the most advanced stage), which means it has already spread outside of the lung. Unfortunately, the mortality rate for patients diagnosed at this advanced stage is very high, with an estimated 3-year net survival rate of only 5%.
In lung cancer, early detection (when it is small and before it has spread) is key. The earlier lung cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance to be successfully treated.
Getting screened for lung cancer
About 72% of lung cancer cases in Canada are due to smoking tobacco. The more you smoke, and the longer you smoke, the higher your risk. However, there are other risk factors for lung cancer, including second-hand smoke, exposure to certain chemicals, and possibly genetics.
According to studies, routine screening for lung cancer may help those who have the highest risk for lung cancer – people 55 and older who are or were heavy smokers. You may want to talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening. Screening tests help your doctor look for a problem before you have symptoms. This increases your chances of finding the problem early, when it’s more treatable. Lung cancer screening is done with a low-dose CT scan (LDCT), which provides your doctor detailed pictures of your lungs.
It’s important to be aware that screening with LDCT will not find all lung cancers, and not all of the cancers that are detected will be found early. If you have questions about screening or LDCT, your doctor is your best source of information.
Symptoms to watch out for
A challenge with lung cancer is that it may not cause signs or symptoms in its early stages. Moreover, when lung cancer does cause symptoms, many people may mistake them for other health conditions, such as an infection or the long-term effects of smoking. As a result, this may delay a person’s diagnosis.
Symptoms of lung cancer include:
- A cough that gets worse or doesn’t go away
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain that you can always feel, and that gets worse with deep breathing or coughing
- Blood in mucus coughed up from the lungs
- Weight loss
- Hoarseness or other changes to your voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or above the collarbone
- Bone pain
Although lung cancer is more likely in smokers or past smokers, non-smokers can also develop it. If you have any of the above symptoms, don’t wait – talk to your doctor. Early detection is key towards treatment success.
Download the Lung Cancer infographic, so you can be armed with the information you need to take action.