Lung cancer develops when genetic mutations (changes) occur in a normal cell within the lung. As a result, the cell reproduces endlessly and becomes a cancer. The mutations that cause cancer are produced by complex interactions between environmental factors and inherited factors.

Although lung cancer accounts for only 15% of all newly-diagnosed cancers in the United States, it is the leading cause of cancer death in U.S. men and women. It is more deadly than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. About 160,000 patients die from lung cancer each year. Death rates have been declining in men over the past decade, and they have about stabilized in women.

Risk Factors

Smoking is the primary risk factor in 85 - 90% of lung cancers. The risk of lung cancer in smokers is about 20 times that of nonsmokers. The risk depends on the duration of the addiction and the number of pack years.

  • The American Cancer Society defines 30 pack years as:
    • One pack per day for 30 years
    • Two packs per day for 15 years
    • Three packs per day for 10 years

Genetic damage in the lung occurs in nearly all chronic smokers, even if cancer has not developed.

People who smoked can be at increased risk for lung cancer more than 20 years after quitting, although the risk drops significantly even in the first year after quitting. There are benefits to quitting smoking, even for people who are well into middle age. Evidence suggests that quitting smoking, after a diagnosis of early stage lung cancer, improves outcomes significantly.

Other factors include:

  • family history of lung cancer
  • personal history of cancer
  • being over the age of 65
  • exposure to radon, secondhand smoke, asbestos


  • dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • hemoptysis (coughing up blood)
  • chronic coughing or change in regular coughing pattern
  • wheezing
  • chest pain or pain in the abdomen
  • cachexia (weight loss), fatigue, and loss of appetite
  • dysphonia (hoarse voice)
  • clubbing of the fingernails (uncommon)
  • dysphagia (difficulty swallowing).

Diagnosis & Treatment

CHI Health Lung Center

The CHI Health Lung Center is designed to detect lung cancer and other non-cancer lung conditions at their earliest stages and help patients access life-saving care as quickly as possible. It is specifically for patients who have had an abnormal chest scan or suspicious lesion, and for those who have been previously diagnosed with lung cancer and require routine observation.

Lung Cancer Screening

The CHI Health Lung Centerr offers cancer screenings for high risk patients and can help coordinate the process, if needed.

Screening Eligibility

We are currently screening people who are at highest risk for lung cancer. High risk individuals include:

    • Current smokers ages 55-74 who have smoked a pack or more of cigarettes every day for 30 years or more.
    • Former smokers ages 55-74 who have quit within the last 15 years.

If you are at high risk, please call 402-717-LUNG in Omaha, or 402-219-7258 in Lincoln today to schedule a screening. The screening is performed by low dose computed tomography (LDCT), which uses a small dose of radiation to produce numerous X-ray like pictures to create a high-definition image of the lung. This procedure is simple and non-invasive.