Lung Cancer

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Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women, not including skin cancer. A man’s lifetime risk of developing lung cancer is 1 in 15, with only prostate cancer more common. A woman’s lifetime risk of developing lung cancer is 1 in 17, with only breast cancer more common. People who smoke have a higher risk of developing lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, making up almost 25% of all cancer deaths. More people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.
The American Cancer Society estimates in 2022 there will be over 236,740 new cases of lung cancer and about 130,180 lung cancer deaths.   

There are a variety of lung cancer causes and risk factors. Some risk factors can be controlled, for instance, by quitting smoking. And other factors can't be controlled, such as your family history. What is important is that you see your doctor on a regular basis and get early screenings, especially if you have risk factors for lung cancer.

Risk factors

Risk factors that may cause you to have an increased risk of developing lung cancer include:

  • Smoking. Smoking remains the greatest risk factor for lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke each day and the number of years you have smoked. Quitting at any age can significantly lower your risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke. Even if you don't smoke, your risk of lung cancer increases if you're exposed to being around people who smoke, otherwise known as secondhand smoke. 
  • Exposure to radon gas in the home or in mining work. Radon is produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water that eventually becomes part of the air you breathe. Unsafe levels of radon can accumulate in any building, including homes. Radon testing kits, which can be purchased at home improvement stores, can determine whether levels are safe. If unsafe levels are discovered, remedies are available.
  • Exposure to asbestos and other chemicals. Workplace exposure to asbestos and other substances known to cause cancer — such as arsenic, chromium and nickel — also can increase your risk of developing lung cancer, especially if you're a smoker.
  • Family history of lung cancer. People with a parent, sibling or child with lung cancer have an increased risk of the disease.
  • Certain smoking-related lung diseases. Smokers with certain lung diseases, such as emphysema, may have an increased risk of lung cancer.


Often people with lung cancer may have no symptoms when the cancer is diagnosed. These cancers usually are identified incidentally when a chest X-ray or CT scan is performed for another reason. The majority of people, however, do develop symptoms. According to the American Cancer Society, these symptoms can include:

  • Cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse
  • Breathing trouble, such as shortness of breath
  • Chest pain, that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Coughing up blood
  • A hoarse voice
  • Frequent lung infections such as pneumonia
  • Feeling very tired all the time
  • Weight loss with no known cause

In many cases, these symptoms are not due to cancer but are the result of other health problems that can cause some of these symptoms. Anyone with such symptoms should see a doctor to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. The survival rate from lung cancer is better the earlier it is caught.

Low-dose CT lung cancer screening

Riverside offers low-dose CT lung screenings for patients who may have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. These screenings may help physicians spot lung cancer sooner when it is more treatable.

A 2011 National Lung Screening Study found that high-risk individuals who have this type of screening had a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer mortality compared to those who were screened with a standard chest X-ray.

It is important for smokers and former smokers to be screened every year, just like having a mammogram if you are a woman or a prostate exam if you are a man. Because this is considered a preventative screening, most insurances, including Medicare, Medicaid and private insurances, pay for the screening. Talk to your doctor to see if you qualify to become part of the Low Dose Lung Screening Program.

Who should have the low-dose CT lung screening?

A LDCT scan is for individuals who are in generally good health and have no symptoms but are at high risk because of their smoking history and age. You should talk to your doctor about LDCT screening if:

  • You are between 50 and 80 years old
  • You have smoked an average of one pack a day for 20 years AND
  • You are currently smoking or quit less than 15 years ago

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Talk with your health care provider

If you or a loved one has concerns about your risk of lung cancer, Riverside Cancer Care provides comprehensive cancer services, including lung cancer screenings and expert diagnostics. Discuss lung cancer screening with your provider and see if a low-dose CT is right for you. For any additional questions call Riverside's Lung Screening Coordinator at 757-534-LUNG. Screenings are available in Newport News, Williamsburg, Hampton, Smithfield, Gloucester and Onancock on the Eastern Shore.

Want to learn more?

Read our Frequently Asked Questions: Lung Cancer Early Detection Screenings.

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