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November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

The month of November is nationally recognized as Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and in honor of that, the Commonwealth Cancer Association published this article to spread awareness of lung cancer, educate our community on how to lower your risk of developing it, and painting a realistic picture of the impact lung cancer can have.

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What is Lung Cancer?

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal, damaged, or dying cells in the body. In a healthy body, cells will be generated, age, and die -- and this process will repeat in an orderly, structured manner. When cancer develops, cells that are sick or dying can begin to replicate themselves. This is dangerous because there is no order and no way for the body to stop the continued growth. Eventually, these cells can form tumors, and they may even metastasize. Metastasis means that these unhealthy cells, which develop in the lung, in the case of lung cancer, can spread throughout the rest of the body through the blood or lymphatic system.

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the lungs. According to the CDC (2022), it is the leading cause of cancer death and the second most diagnosed type of cancer in the United States.

How is Lung Cancer Prevented?

Lung cancer is a preventable cancer; in other words, there are lifestyle choices and healthy habits you can develop to lower your risk of developing lung cancer.

Risk Factors of Lung Cancer

The National Cancer Institute (2015) stated that while no one knows exactly why someone will develop cancer, there are certain risk factors that make it more likely. In the case of lung cancer, risk factors include:

  1. Smoking - Cigarette smoke is proven to have a mix of over 7,000 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are toxic and have been linked to causing cancer in people and animals. In total, smoking cigarettes has been linked to 80 - 90% of lung cancer diagnoses in the United States. The National Cancer Institute indicates that smoking cigarettes makes a person 15 to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a person who does not. Similarly, your risk of developing lung cancer increases the longer you have smoked (in years) and the more cigarettes you smoke a day, but even people who smoke occasionally find themselves at higher risk than someone who does not smoke.

  2. Second-hand Smoke - Though you may not smoke yourself, hanging out with people who are smoking increases your risk of developing lung cancer. If you decide to smoke, please be aware that second-hand smoke has the same effects on the people around you as it does on yourself. This is especially relevant for parents with children.

  3. Radon - Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US today. Radon is a gas that you cannot see or smell and occurs naturally in soil, rocks, and water. This gas can come into your home, through cracks and holes and will become trapped. Because this causes thousands of lung cancer deaths each year, learn how to get your home tested for radon here: Test Your Home | NCEH | CDC.

  4. Other Dangerous Substances - While we all like to think our homes and offices are safe, other dangerous substances may be hiding in their walls. The list includes (but is not limited to) asbestos, arsenic, and diesel exhaust. All of these can have a negative effect on the body and the cells they damage are in the lungs, which leads to an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

  5. Your Personal or Family History of Lung Cancer - As in the case of most other cancers, if you have previously fought (and won) a battle with one type of lung cancer, you may be at risk for developing another type. In the case of your family history, if an immediate family member has had lung cancer, you are at risk yourself. This may be because you live in the same building, where radon, asbestos, or arsenic may be hiding, or because you have developed similar habits, like smoking. In any case, if a close family member has had lung cancer, get screened yourself! Early detection is one of your best bets of survival when it comes to lung cancer.

Symptoms Lung Cancer

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all list of symptoms that people with lung cancer will experience. In most cases, a person with early stages may feel unwell and have slight difficulty breathing, but more recognizable symptoms are unlikely to develop until the cancer becomes more advanced. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible to get screened for lung cancer.

  • Shortness of breath,

  • Chest pain,

  • A cough that does not go away or gets progressively worse,

  • Wheezing,

  • Coughing up blood,

  • Feeling exhausted all the time, even when you are well-rested,

  • Sudden weight loss with no known cause, or

  • Repeated bouts of pneumonia.

Life with Lung Cancer

Nutrition and Physical Activity

Taking care of your body before, during, and after your cancer treatment is essential to keeping up your overall health. Discuss your nutrition with a dietician to keep yourself at a good weight and to ensure you are getting the right nutrients to keep your strength up.

Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, as certain activities are more highly recommended than others. These activities include yoga, swimming, and walking.

Follow-up Care

Once you have finished with your treatments, and entered the monitoring phase of your cancer journey, you will need to continue visiting your doctor for regular checkups.

These checkups will allow your medical team to monitor any changes in your health and to treat them as needed. Doctors will be on the look-out for signs that the cancer has returned and for health problems that can result from your treatment. It is imperative you report any changes in your health to your doctor.

Sourcing Support

Cancer changes your life, and it can affect the lives of your family and close friends. It is normal to seek help when it comes to coping with these changes. The CCA organizes support groups for cancer survivors and their caregivers to foster a sense of community for survivors. These monthly meetings give you and your family a safe space to share your experience and to process any feelings you have about your journey with cancer.

Being a part of a community with shared experiences can help reduce feelings of loneliness and gives you a forum for giving and receiving advice, comfort, companionship, and hope.

Further Reading on Lung Cancer

The following websites and articles were used to inform this article, but they also discuss lung cancer in more depth. If you want to know more, the Commonwealth Cancer Association recommends using these free resources:

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