Prevention/Early Detection

Lung cancer forms in the tissues of the lung, usually in the cells that line air passages. There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell. The two types are diagnosed depending on how the cells look under a microscope.

Each year, 10 percent to 15 percent of new lung cancer cases are diagnosed in people who have never smoked.


Smoking is the greatest risk factor for lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer increases with the amount of time you’ve smoked and how much you smoke every day. Quitting smoking, even if you’ve smoked for a number of years, can greatly reduce your risk for lung cancer.

Second-hand smoke also contributes to lung cancer. Avoid breathing other people’s tobacco smoke. If people around you are smoking, ask them to stop, go outside, or move to another room or area.

Inhaling chemicals at a workplace, such as radon, can also cause lung cancer. If you work around chemicals, take safety precautions and use breathing equipment or masks.

Your odds for developing lung cancer are higher if you have a family history of lung cancer or a history of lung disease. 

Besides avoiding the factors that are known to cause cancer, you also can lower your risk for lung cancer by:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Taking certain medications to treat a precancerous condition or to keep cancer from starting.


Lung cancer usually doesn’t have symptoms in its early stages. Signs begin to appear when the cancer is in advanced stages.

Common signs include:

  • Bone pain or fractures
  • Changes in a chronic cough or smoker’s cough
  • Constant chest pain
  • Coughing up bloody or rust-colored sputum (mucous or phlegm), even in small amounts
  • Fatigue
  • Fever for unexplained reasons
  • Headaches
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of weight or appetite
  • New cough that won’t go away
  • Recurring lung infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing


At UT Southwestern Medical Center, your physician will probably order several tests to determine whether you have lung cancer.

Commonly requested tests include:

Imaging tests
Can include a chest X-ray that may show an abnormal mass or a computed tomography (CT) scan, which can reveal small lesions on your lungs that the X-ray might not detect
Sputum cytology
If you have a cough with sputum, a microscopic examination of the sputum might reveal cancer cells
Removing suspect tissue and analyzing it in a lab

A recent study shows that early detection can reduce deaths by 20 percent. UT Southwestern’s Simmons Cancer Center offers a screening CT exam for early detection of lung cancer. Finding lung cancer early can improve the treatment effectiveness and options available.