November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month
The American Cancer Society has designated November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer in the U.S.
Each year, lung cancer accounts for roughly one in four cancer deaths. In fact, more people die due to lung cancer related causes than prostrate, colon, and breast cancers combined. An estimated 234,000 of new cases of lung cancer are expected to be diagnosed this year alone.
Most Lung Cancers are Smoking Related
Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 different chemicals, many of which are known carcinogens (cancer causing substances). The majority of lung cancers are preventable, in that they are related to smoking (or exposure to secondhand smoke) at work or home. The only truly safe cigarette is one that is never smoked.
Radon Exposure and Lung Cancer
The second leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers is radon, a tasteless, odorless, and invisible, radioactive gas. A natural phenomenon, radon is caused by the breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil. If you are concerned about radon in or near your home, the federal government has listed radon testing and information here.
Other Lung Cancer Risk Factors
Exposure asbestos (federal regulations now limit how asbestos is used in commercial and industrial products), arsenic (which can occur in contaminated drinking water), pesticides, inhaled chemicals and or minerals, diesel exhaust, radiation therapy to the chest, air pollution, and or a family history of lung cancer, have all been linked to the development of lung cancer. Some people who get lung cancer do not have any known risk factors.
There Are Three Main Types of Lung Cancer
• Non-Small Cell Lung Cancers (NSCLC)- comprises approximately 85% of all lung cancers. NSCLC cancers include squamous cell carcinomas, large cell carcinomas, and adenocarcinomas.
• Small Cell Lung Cancers (SCLC) - comprises approximately 10-15% of all lung cancers. This form of lung cancer tends to be more aggressive and faster growing than non-small cell lung cancers.
• Lung Carcinoid Tumors - comprises less than 5% of all lung cancers. Also known as neuroendocrine tumors, they tend to be indolent (slow growing) and do not usually spread to other areas of the body.
The most common form of lung cancer in the U.S is adenocarcinoma, accounting for 35-40% of all forms of lung cancer, and about 50% of all non-small cell lung cancers. Adenocarcinomas are usually formed in the outer areas of the lung; they can metastasize (spread) to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body.
A type of neuroendocrine tumor, small cell lung cancers (also called oat center cancers because of their appearance in pathology samples), usually arise within the bronchi (the main air passages that branch off the windpipe).
Lung Cancer May Not Create Symptoms at First
Many forms of lung cancer may not cause noticeable symptoms until they have begun to spread. Even if someone does have symptoms, they may be mistaken for other issues and or ignored. This means that diagnosis and treatment for lung cancer may be delayed until the cancer has progressed enough to present noticeable symptoms
A large percentage of lung cancers are found when someone is being evaluated for other conditions such as pneumonia, heart disease, or other conditions.
Lung Cancer Screening
Lung cancer screenings can help detect lung cancer in people who have not yet developed symptoms. According to the American Cancer Society, x-rays, which have long been used to detect lung cancer, may not be that effective in helping people live longer.
X-Rays and CT Scans
Other tests, such as a low-dose CT (computerized tomography) or LDCT scans can detect suspicious areas of the lung that may be lung cancer. When compared with x-rays, LDCT scans are a more effective screening tool for those with a higher risk of developing lung cancer, even when they have not displayed any symptoms.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
The average time between the onset of symptoms and a lung cancer diagnosis is over a year. Symptoms can be vague. They can also be misdiagnosed as they may present in ways that appear to be unrelated to lung cancer.
Symptoms may also present differently in males than females. When symptoms of lung cancer do occur, they can include:
• A persistent cough that may become worse
• Chest pain that becomes worse with deep breaths, laughing or coughing
• Loss of appetite
• Back pain (the pain may worsen when you take a deep breath or at night, and may be present even when you are at rest)
• Unintended weight loss
• Shortness of breath
• Fatigue and weakness
• Recurring lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
Additional symptoms such as bone pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes due to the buildup of bile salts), swollen lymph glands, and others can be caused if the cancer begins to spread to other areas of the body. These symptoms however, can also be caused by other conditions and disorders. Click here.
Smoking and Lung Cancer
Smoking remains a leading cause of both small cell and non-small cell lung cancer. Smoking is linked to roughly 80-90% of all lung cancer deaths. Women who smoke (or have smoked in the past) are 13 times more likely to develop lung cancer than to females who have never smoked. Men, on the other hand, are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer from smoking compared to males who have never smoked.
Lung Cancer Secondhand Smoke
Additionally, nonsmokers who live or work around smokers and are exposed to secondhand smoke, are 20-30% more likely to develop some form of lung cancer than those who have not been exposed to secondhand smoke at work or home. According to the American Lung Association, approximately 7,330 people die each year from lung cancer directly linked to secondhand smoke.
When it comes to lung cancer, the single best preventative measure is to avoid smoking and or exposure to secondhand smoke. If you do smoke, quitting can go a long way towards reducing your risk for developing lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Treatment
Because different types of lung cancer respond differently to treatment, the precise form of treatment will depend on the stage and kind of lung cancer in question. Lung cancer treatment may include:
• Targeted medications
• Radiation and/or chemotherapy
• Supportive care
Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about appropriate screenings if you have a family history of lung cancer, were or are a smoker, or have other risk factors.
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This content does not represent medical advice. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified medical provider.