Lung cancer

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the lungs, it is called lung cancer. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. More people die of lung cancer each year than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

man outside with work gloves

Lung cancer risk factors

Smoking is the most common risk factor for developing lung cancer. Eight out of 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking.

Other risk factors include being exposed to:

  • radon, diesel exhaust or other airborne substances, such as asbestos
  • secondhand tobacco smoke
woman with her hand over her heart and lungs

Lung cancer symptoms

Lung cancer may or may not cause symptoms, especially early in the disease. Common symptoms include:

  • a persistent cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse over time
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • hoarseness
  • coughing up sputum (mucus) that contains blood
  • ongoing or constant fatigue (tiredness)
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss for no known reason
doctor looking at a lung Xray for lung cancer

Lung cancer screening

Lung cancer screening is done to find lung cancer early, when treatment works better.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recommends lung screening if you are between the ages of 50 and 77 if all the criteria below apply to you:

  • You have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer (coughing up blood, trouble breathing, lots of infections, fatigue and unexpected weight loss).
  • You smoke now or have quit within the last 15 years.
  • You have a history of heavy smoking (20-pack-year history). This means that you have smoked the equivalent of 1 pack of cigarettes each day for 20 years or 2 packs each day for 10 years.

Check with your insurance provider if you can get screening until age 80.

woman with mask pulled down so she can smoke

Lung cancer prevention

The best way to prevent lung cancer is to not smoke and avoid being around secondhand tobacco smoke. If you are a smoker, there are resources to help you quit tobacco. You can also prevent lung cancer by avoiding or limiting your exposure radon, diesel exhaust or other airborne substances, such as asbestos.

Want to know more?

Learn how Allina Health cares for lung cancer patients.

Explore our cancer resources

We created this collection of information and support to help you through this time.