By: Caylie Guinn, Little Red Door Health Educator – Americorp Public Ally
Overview: November isn’t just for turkey, it’s also Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, with only 18% of people surviving five years after diagnoses. Every year in the U.S., over 155,000 people die from lung cancer, more than breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined. Risk Factors: Tobacco Use Current or former smokers are at the highest risk of developing lung cancer. 80-90% of lung cancer diagnoses occur in people with a history of tobacco use. Over 7000 chemicals have been found in the average cigarette, with over 70 being known carcinogens (causes of cancer). When these chemicals enter the lungs, they cause damage to the lung tissue (including the buildup of a thick, sticky substance called tar) and mutations in the lung cells that can result in cancer. Compared to people who have never smoked, women who regularly smoke are 13 times more likely to develop lung cancer, while men are 23 times more likely. The risk only increases with the amount of tobacco used.
Tobacco use also affects nonsmokers: secondhand smoke (smoke from the burning tobacco or from a smoker’s exhale) is also one of the leading causes of lung cancer. People frequently exposed to secondhand smoke are 20-30% more likely to develop lung cancer. Over 3,000 people die each year from lung cancer as a result of secondhand smoke. Pet owners who smoke should also be cautious – all your furry, scaly, or feathered friends can be affected by secondhand smoke as well. In fact, dogs and cats are twice as likely to develop lung cancer if their owner smokes.
Other Risk Factors: Additional risk factors for lung cancer include frequent exposure to radon (a radioactive gas found in soil) and asbestos (a fire-resistant mineral). Fortunately, regulations have been put in place to decrease exposure to these materials. Get your home tested if you are unsure whether these chemicals are present. Health history can also increase the risk of developing lung cancer. While anyone can develop lung cancer, those with a family history of the disease may have a higher risk. People who have previously had lung cancer are also at risk for developing the cancer again. Symptoms: Because many symptoms of lung cancer are similar to other diseases and the long-term effects of smoking, many lung cancer patients do not seek early treatment. Early signs of lung cancer include:
- A persistent cough (also known as “smoker’s cough”)
- Coughing up blood or reddish mucus
- Frequent chest, upper back, or shoulder pain
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
If you are at risk or experience any of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Lung cancer can be aggressive, but it does not mean there is no hope. If you are diagnosed, there are several treatment options available, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and many others. It is important to have an open discussion with your doctor about concerns and questions regarding your diagnoses and treatment. Tobacco Cessation Resources The best way to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer is to avoid tobacco products, including secondhand smoke. Even current smokers can benefit from quitting: 10 years after quitting, your risk of developing lung cancer is half that of a current smoker. While quitting can be difficult, it is not impossible. If you or someone you know is a tobacco user and would like to quit, there are several tools available to help:
- Talk to a doctor about quitting.
- Find cessation (quitting) programs or products (such as a nicotine patch or gum).
- **It is important to note that e-cigarettes or “vapes” are not an FDA approved or regulated cessation product. In fact, many studies are showing that e-cigarettes contain many cancer-causing chemicals. Because it is unclear whether e-cigs are a helpful and safe, they are not recommended as a tool to quit.
- Get support from friends, family, or coworkers.
- Find a quit buddy (someone else who wants to quit).
- 1-800-QUIT-NOW and text2quit are free services available 24/7 that help create quitting plans and send reminders or tips for quitting successfully.
- If phone apps are helpful for you, there are several apps designed to help quit. This list provides a good starting point, but find the one that works for you.
- Additional web resources:
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, Little Red Door Cancer Agency is here to help. LRD offers free cancer services, cancer prevention education, and a safe space for cancer patients, survivors, and their loved ones. To learn more about our services and find out if you qualify, please contact us at 317-925-5595 or visit www.littlereddoor.org. You can also keep up with us on our Facebook page. At Little Red Door, we strive to make the most of life and the least of cancer.