Wellness Wednesday: November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer of women in the United States.

lung_cancer_awarenessLung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women (not counting skin cancer), and is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

Most lung cancers could be prevented, because they are related to smoking (or secondhand smoke), or less often to exposure to radon, asbestos or other environmental factors. The more cigarettes you smoke per day and the earlier you started smoking, the greater your risk of lung cancer. But some lung cancers occur in people without any known risk factors for the disease and it is not yet clear if these cancers can be prevented.

Common symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Coughing that gets worse or doesn’t go away
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling very tired all the time
  • Weight loss with no known cause

Prevention

QuitSmoking3Not all lung cancers can be prevented, but there are some ways you can reduce your risk of getting lung cancer. The best way to reduce risk is not to smoke and to avoid breathing in other people’s smoke.

If you stop smoking before a cancer develops, your damaged lung tissue gradually starts to repair itself. No matter what your age or how long you’ve smoked, quitting may lower your risk of lung cancer and help you live longer. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who continue to smoke.

Limiting your exposure to secondhand smoke might also help lower your risk of lung cancer, as well as some other cancers.

Radon is an important cause of lung cancer. You can reduce your exposure to radon by having your home tested and treated, if needed.

Avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing chemicals, in the workplace and elsewhere, may also be helpful (see “What are the risk factors for lung cancer?”). When people work where these exposures are common, they should be kept to a minimum. Be sure to follow proper safety procedures, such as wearing a respirator, if this applies at your workplace.

A healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables may also help reduce your risk of lung cancer. Some evidence suggests that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may help protect against lung cancer in both smokers and non-smokers. But any positive effect of fruits and vegetables on lung cancer risk would be much less than the increased risk from smoking.

Some people who get lung cancer do not have any clear risk factors. Although we know how to prevent most lung cancers, at this time we don’t know how to prevent all of them.

Early Detection and Screening

lungcancerMost lung cancers have already spread widely and are at an advanced stage when they are first found. These cancers are very hard to cure. But in recent years, doctors have found a test that can be used to screen for lung cancer in people at high risk of the disease. This test can help find some of these cancers early, which can lower the risk of dying from this disease.

American Cancer Society Screening Guidelines for lung cancer

Exams and tests to look for lung cancer

Diagnosis and Treatment

Doctors diagnose lung cancer using a physical exam, imaging and lab tests. Lung cancer is treated in several ways, depending on the type, stage, and how advanced it is. People with non-small cell lung cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments. People with small cell lung cancer are usually treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

  • Surgery. An operation where doctors cut out cancer tissue.
  • Chemotherapy. Using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
  • Radiation therapy. Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer.
  • Targeted therapy. Using drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins.

Sources: American Cancer Society, NIH: National Cancer Institute and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


More Information

How the American Cancer Society Fights Lung Cancer
CDC: Lung Cancer Awareness
Free to Breathe
National Cancer Institute

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