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Lung cancer is more than a smokers’ disease

Lung cancer is more than a smokers’ disease

The world seems to turn pink each October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but little recognition is given to the month that follows. November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month, intended to educate the public about the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States.

As smoking rates decrease, the rate of lung cancer cases are diminishing as well, but it’s still the second most diagnosed cancer in the United States. Just three years ago, more than 200,000 people were diagnosed, accounting for 14 percent of all cancer diagnoses. Lung cancer is also responsible for 27 percent of all cancer deaths, including 156,953 in 2011.

It’s also one of the most poorly funded cancers. Although it kills more than colon, pancreatic, prostate and breast cancers combined, it receives less than $1,500 in federal research funds per death. This is compared to breast cancer, which receives almost $26,500, and prostate with almost $13,500.

Similar to other lung-based cancers, like mesothelioma, lung cancer symptoms typically don’t present themselves until the disease is in a later stage. Common signs of lung cancer include chest pain, wheezing, bone pain, shortness of breath, headaches, new cough that can’t be relieved, coughing up any amount of blood, unintentional weight loss and any changes in a chronic cough.

Often labeled a ‘smoker’s disease,’ lung cancer is primarily caused by cigarette smoke, but not exclusively. When the carcinogen-filled smoke is inhaled, either directly or via secondhand smoke, the tissues in the lungs begin to change. Bodies attempt to repair the smoke damage, but eventually the cells begin to behave abnormally, increasing the risk of cancer.

If you are a smoker, quitting significantly reduces your risk of lung cancer, even if you’ve smoked for many years.

But what if you never smoked or experienced long-term exposure to a smoker? Other causes include a family history of lung cancer, diet and different substance exposures at home or work, including radon or asbestos.

Before the substance was banned, asbestos products were found everywhere: in building materials, tiles, insulation and much more. The carcinogen affects everyone differently, depending on the asbestos exposure source, how long a person was exposed and to how much, the type of asbestos as well as other factors like whether a person smoked.

In fact, the asbestos and smoking combination is especially harmful. Smoking plus asbestos exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer by five or more times than smoking alone.

Learn how to quit smoking this November and improve your health.

Sources
  • Arielle Densen, “Lung cancer battle: Time for action,” CNN (Nov. 25, 2014). [Link]
  • CDC, “Lung cancer,” (Oct. 14, 2014). [Link]
  • Mayo Clinic, “Lung cancer,” Disease and Conditions (March 19, 2014). [Link]
  • National Cancer Institute, “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk,” FactSheet [Link]