Raising Awareness: National Lung Cancer Month

As November unfolds, we find ourselves immersed in National Lung Cancer Month – a dedicated time to amplify awareness on a disease that affects countless lives globally. Our focus turns towards shedding light on the complexities surrounding lung cancer, its impact on individuals and their families, and the imperative need for education, prevention, and support.

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of the lungs. When these cells grow uncontrollably, they can form a tumor and interfere with the normal functioning of the lungs. The original site of the tumor is key when determining types of treatment. As an example, if a tumor begins in the breast and spreads to the lungs, it would be treated as metastatic breast cancer and not lung cancer. Primary Lung cancer occurs when the cancer originates in the lungs. Over time, lung cancer may spread to lymph nodes or other organs in the body, including the brain.

According to research conducted this year by the American Lung Association, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with lung cancer every two minutes. Additionally, every day, lung cancer takes the lives of an estimated 360 people.

The National Cancer Institute revealed that an estimated 609,820 people will die of cancer in the U.S. in 2023, lung and bronchus cancer leading the number of deaths at an alarming estimate of 127,070 of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones. That is nearly three times the rate of deaths by colorectal cancer, considered the second most common cause of cancer death. Lung cancer is considered one of the deadliest cancers; most often diagnosed when it has already spread to regional or distal areas (74% of the cases).  The overall 5-year relative survival rate from lung cancer is 25.4%.

7 Risk Factors of Lung Cancer

  1. Smoking – it is no secret that smoking tobacco is the leading risk for lung cancer. Smoking is linked to about 80% of lung cancer deaths. The more you smoke every day and the longer you smoke, the higher your risk.
  2. Secondhand smoke – breathing in other people’s smoke increases your own risk of lung cancer. Consider keeping your home and car smoke-free to protect both yourself and your loved ones.
  3. Radon – after smoking, radon is the most common cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Radon is an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas that comes from soil and rocks. It becomes an issue when it gathers in the lower parts of buildings such as basements. If your home has high levels of radon, you are at a greater risk for lung cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has resources for fixing the problem of radon in your home here.
  4. Asbestos – a mineral fiber found in rocks and soil, asbestos has been used by manufacturers for years in insulation and other products. Breathing it in can increase your risk for lung cancer. Fortunately, standards have been set to lower these risks and you can find more information about this by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) here.
  5. Chemicals – exposure to chemicals including silica, arsenic, coal products, and other chemicals mostly found in the workplace can cause lung cancer. Be sure to follow relevant health and safety guidelines.
  6. Air pollution – breathing in air pollution from wildfires, transportation, and industrial fumes can increase your risk for lung cancer.
  7. Radiation therapy to the chest – this kind of therapy can be used as a form of treatment for diseases like Hodgkin lymphoma and breast cancer, however, unfortunately, patients who received it are also at a higher risk for lung cancer.

One of our esteemed oncologists, Dr. Neelesh Bangalore, MD, emphasizes the significance that smoking has in developing lung cancer.

“If we did not have smoking, then we would see almost an 85 to 90 percent drop in the incidence of lung cancer,” Dr. Bangalore said.

Types of Lung Cancer

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

Non-small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

NSCLC comprises three main subtypes that include adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (epidermoid carcinoma), and large cell carcinoma.

  • Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of lung cancer and is often found in the outer areas of the lungs. It is more frequently diagnosed in non-smokers and is more common in women.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma, also known as epidermoid carcinoma, is typically found in the central part of the lungs and develops more often in those with a history of smoking.
  • Large cell carcinoma is the least common type of NSCLC. It can begin anywhere in the lung and tends to spread and grow more quickly, which can make it harder to treat.

Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

SCLC, or otherwise known as oat cell cancer, is known for its rapid growth, and early spread to other parts of the body. It is often diagnosed at an advanced stage. This type of lung cancer is almost exclusively found in smokers and usually spreads to other parts of the body at an earlier stage. Only about 1 in 10 people diagnosed with lung cancer have SCLC, making it the least common of the two types.

Warning Signs of Lung Disease

Now that we know the risk factors of lung cancer, let’s explore the warning signs.

  • Chronic cough or a cough that you have had for eight weeks or longer.
  • Shortness of breath that does not go away after exercising, or after little or no exertion.
  • Chronic mucus production that has lasted a month or longer.
  • Wheezing or noisy breathing may be a sign that something unusual is blocking your lungs’ airways.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Chronic chest pain that lasts for a month or more and/or gets worse when you breathe in or cough.

If you experience any of the signs listed above, contact your healthcare provider right away. At Hill Physicians, we have over 5,600 physicians dedicated to giving you the care you deserve. You can find one in our vast network here.

Lung Cancer Screening

This year’s report from the American Lung Association examines the lifesaving potential of lung cancer screening, which detects lung cancer at an earlier stage when it is more curable. If lung cancer is detected before it spreads, the likelihood of surviving five years or more improves to 63 percent.

A low-dose CT scan is a special kind of X-ray specifically designed for early detection of lung cancer, especially in individuals at higher risk, such as long-term smokers. The low-dose CT scan takes multiple photos as you lie on a table that slides in and out of the machine. After, a computer combines these images into a detailed photo of your lungs. A study done by the American Lung Association found that this low-dose cancer screening test can reduce mortality for those at high risk.

You can take the American Lung Association’s new low-dose CT lung cancer screening test and eligibility quiz here to see if you should get screened.

Beyond this month, let us carry forward the momentum, raising awareness, and championing advancements that bring us closer to a future where lung cancer is not just understood but conquered.

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