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Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in South Australia, with 736 people predicted to die from the disease this year.

This Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we asked our experienced Cancer Council 13 11 20 Nurse, Valerie about what causes lung cancer and the symptoms to look out for.

This year, it is predicted that there will be more than 1,100 South Australians diagnosed with lung cancer. The disease is more common in men and older Australians, with the average age of diagnosis at 72 years.

Valerie says that early detection is vital in ensuring that people survive a lung cancer diagnosis.

“It’s important that whether you are a smoker, or have never smoked a day in your life, if you notice any unusual changes in your body or symptoms of lung cancer, that you see your GP right away,” Valerie says.

What causes lung cancer?

“There is a common misconception and stigma that all people diagnosed with lung cancer are smokers. When in fact, about 1 in 5 people diagnosed with lung cancer have never been smokers,” Valerie says.

“Smoking tobacco is one of the risk factors for lung cancer. In Australia, about 90 per cent of lung cancer cases in men and 65 per cent in women are estimated to be a result of smoking tobacco.

“But it is not the only risk factor, and lung cancer can develop without having any known risk factors.”

In addition to smoking, factors that are known to increase risk of developing lung cancer include:

  • second-hand (passive) smoke
  • exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens commonly found in the workplace
  • a family history
  • a personal history of other lung diseases
  • older age.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

“If you have a persistent cough, chest pain, and/or breathlessness you need to see a GP. Symptoms may be caused by something other than lung cancer, but the only way to know is to see a doctor,” Valerie says.

The common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • a persistent new cough (lasting more than three weeks)
  • a change in a cough you’ve had for a long time
  • breathlessness
  • pain in the chest or shoulder
  • chest infection that lasts more than three weeks or that keeps coming back
  • coughing or spitting up blood.

Other symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, hoarse voice, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, abdominal or joint pain, and enlarged fingertips.

“If you notice any unusual changes in your body or have any lung cancer symptoms that are new, severe or continue for more than three weeks, it’s best to have a check-up,” Valerie says.

If you, or someone you know, has been diagnosed with lung cancer, we are here for you.

You can speak to an experienced Cancer Council 13 11 20 Nurse Monday to Friday, 9.00 am to 5.00 pm. Contact 13 11 20 or visit our website here to get in touch.

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