NASHVILLE, TN — November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month – a month to bring awareness to a disease that claims the lives of 1.6 million people annually, according to the World Health Organization. Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in both men and women, and the disease causes more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined.

“Lung cancer is a very complex disease to understand and treat, and early detection can save a patient’s life,” said Dr. John Howington, thoracic surgeon at Saint Thomas Health. “We recommend a low-dose CT scan for high risk patients, as the scan can help detect lung cancer in its earlier stages when the disease is more likely to be curable.”

Here are five truths about lung cancer from the American Lung Association:

1. Lung cancer occurs when cells in the lungs change, or mutate. 

Lung cancer occurs when a person has abnormal cells that cluster together to form a tumor. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells grow without order or control, and cancerous cells destroy the healthy lung tissue around them. When cancer cells grow too fast, they prevent organs of the body from functioning normally.

2. Anyone can get lung cancer. Various factors can cause the mutation of cells that leads to lung cancer. Most often, this change in lung cells happens when a person is exposed to dangerous, toxic substances, such as tobacco smoke, radon, pollution, or industrial compounds like dust and fumes.

3. Symptoms of lung cancer vary. Many people who have lung cancer don’t experience symptoms until the disease is in later stages. Symptoms of lung cancer include constant chest pain, a cough that doesn’t go away, hoarseness, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, and frequent lung infections.

4. Lung cancer is difficult to detect early. One reason lung cancer is so deadly is that it’s hard to find in the early stages. It can take years for the cancer to grow and there are usually no early symptoms. Because there are very few nerve endings in the lungs, a tumor can grow without causing pain or discomfort. By the time a person begins experiencing symptoms, the cancer has often spread to other parts of the body.

5. Lung cancer can be treated more successfully when it is found early. Researchers continue to work on developing tests that can find lung cancer in its early stages. New studies have shown that low-dose CT screenings (LDCT) are particularly important for high-risk individuals.

In Tennessee, Ascension’s Saint Thomas Health operates nine hospitals in addition to a comprehensive network of affiliated joint ventures, medical practices, clinics and rehabilitation facilities that cover a 68-county area and employ more than 8,000 associates. Across the state, Saint Thomas Health provided more than $92 million in community benefit and care of persons living in poverty in fiscal year 2017. Serving Tennessee for 15 years, Ascension is a faith-based healthcare organization committed to delivering compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable.  Visit

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