Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions related to lung cancer:

Q: Is it possible to determine if early lung cancer is present, in long-standing smokers or previous smokers, when there are no symptoms and the person appears perfectly healthy?

A: A new type of X-ray called spiral low-dose CT scanning, from which computer images showing slices of the entire lung are made available, has shown success in detecting the presence of early lung cancer. However, before deciding to be examined by this technique, you should understand that a number of noncancerous and harmless changes that are not easily distinguished from lung cancer may be seen. To exclude lung cancer, a number of expensive and potentially invasive tests may then be necessary. Also, whether in the long run this will make a difference to the survival pattern of those diagnosed with lung cancer is not yet known. Other tests are also being developed, particularly studying damage to DNA within cells taken from the lung.

Q: Should I participate in a clinical trial?

A: A clinical trial is a research study to determine the effectiveness of newer treatments. The aim of a clinical trial is to improve the current available treatments offered based on the results of newer scientific information. Clinical trials are conducted only on drugs and methods that have already been effective in managing cancer. New treatments are first tested in laboratories and in animal studies, and if they show promise, they are then evaluated further with human studies. Participation in clinical trialsInformation about clinical trials may be obtained from your doctor or may be obtained directly from the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237) or at

Q: Why is it that some smokers will develop lung cancer while others won’t?

A: Research suggests that some people are more at risk for developing cancer if their body is not as easily able to deal with certain cancer-causing chemicals. This inability to neutralize cancer-causing chemicals is believed to be inherited. Researchers also believe that in some people, when they come into contact with certain cancer-causing agents, their immune system, instead of neutralizing them, will actually make these agents more aggressive within the body. Such people, therefore, would be more sensitive to tobacco smoke and chemicals known to cause cancer.

Q: I’m a former smoker, and I’ve been coughing a lot. Could I have lung cancer?

A: The symptoms that may suggest lung cancer are similar to symptoms of other lung conditions that may not be as serious as lung cancer. The main symptoms of lung cancer are coughing up blood, and coughing that does not seem to improve and gets worse with time. Other symptoms are chest pain, shortness of breath, frequent bouts of pneumonia, weight loss, and feeling tired. The only way to tell if your coughing is related to lung cancer is to see your doctor. Lung cancer can take years to make itself manifest. It is not unusual for lung cancer to appear 4 or 5 years after smoking cessation. Though smoking conveys a lifetime risk of lung cancer, that risk drops dramatically after 10 years.

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