November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. This is important because in the United States, it is the second most common cancer in both men and women, and the leading cause of cancer death.
Most people do not realize how prevalent it is and assume if they do not smoke, they are not at risk. Unfortunately this is not the case.
Keep reading to learn 5 surprising facts about lung cancer.
- Smoking is the most common risk factor.
It is estimated that some 90 percent of lung cancers are due to the thousands of chemicals in tobacco, many of them carcinogenic.
Even those who only smoke a few cigarettes a day or on occasion are still at higher risk than those who have never smoked. While quitting is extremely helpful for the body all around, some damage will have already been done to the lungs.
- Note that never-smokers can get lung cancer too.
Radon is the second most common risk factor and due to its odor-less and color-less properties, many people have no idea they were exposed until it is too late. This is a common reason for radon detectors to be in homes now.
Other environmental exposures also increase the risk including asbestos, diesel exhaust, pollution, arsenic, and breathing dust from certain mines.
Genetic properties make a person more susceptible to developing lung cancer, especially if their parents or siblings have a history of it.
- The symptoms look like a cold or asthma but do not typically go away.
People with lung cancer often cough, wheeze or cough up blood. They may have shortness of breath or trouble breathing. They can experience chest pain, fatigue, and/or unexplained weight loss.
Does this mean every person with these symptoms has cancer? Definitely not! However if the symptoms do not dissipate with treatment after a few weeks, please talk with your health care provider.
- Age does matter.
The risk of developing lung cancer increases as people get older because their exposure increases over time. The average person to develop lung cancer is between 55-80 years old.
It is suggested that regular smokers or those with a history of heavy smoking consider screening imaging yearly once they reach 55 years old. Unfortunately, the imaging does involve radiation exposure which is another risk factor for lung cancer.
- There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell carcinoma and non-small cell carcinoma.
Adenocarcinoma accounts for 40 percent of lung cancers and is a non-small cell type. The small cell type seems to grow the quickest and metastasize more so than non-small cell therefore it has the reputation of being more aggressive.
Unfortunately, when you include all types of lung cancer as a group, only about 17 percent have a 5-year survival from diagnosis. Therefore it is critically important that you never start smoking, or if you smoke that you quit. Avoid all second-hand smoke, test your house for radon, minimize pollution exposure.
Protect your lungs and protect your long-term health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Lung Cancer Statistics.
Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/statistics/index.htm
Gulati, S., Mulshine, J. (2014). Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines: Common Ground and Differences.
Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/829392
Reviewed November 12, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith