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Take A Deep Breath & Get Involved with Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Although it’s most often associated with smoking—and rightly so, as that’s a leading cause—lung cancer can also be caused by other factors we may be unaware of. Learning the risks, and how to reduce and even avoid them, is a key focus of Lung Cancer Awareness Month every November.

  • First some facts, courtesy of the Lung Cancer Foundation of America:
  • Lung cancer kills 433 Americans every day—the same number of seats on a 747 aircraft.
  • Someone in the United States dies of lung cancer every 3.3 minutes
  • More than 230,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year in the United States
  • Lung cancer kills almost twice as many women as breast cancer—it’s been the No. 1 killer of women since 1987.

Risk factors for lung cancer

Those are some sobering figures. So how can lung cancer be avoided, or how can someone know if he or she is at heightened risk? Here are some tips for awareness:

Age is a factor: About two out of three lung cancers are diagnosed in those over age 65, and the average age at diagnosis is 71.

Family history plays a role: Genetics may increase the possibility of lung cancer. If someone has an immediate family member who has or has had lung cancer—and who does not or did not smoke—he or she may be more prone to developing the disease.

Smoking: Smoking is considered the leading cause of lung cancer. Secondhand smoke may significantly increase this risk, so if someone around you is smoking, you’re in danger. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that two out of five adult non-smokers and half of children exposed to secondhand smoke die from lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that tobacco smoking causes about nine in 10 cases of lung cancer in men and eight in 10 in women. (Ready to quit? November’s also the Great American Smokeout – learn more from our previous blog entry.)

Asbestos exposure:  Carcinogenic chemicals in the workplace can increase risk, especially if paired with smoking.

Radon exposure: Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that is found in some houses and is a leading cause of lung cancer. 

Vaping and lung cancer

Lung-related illnesses are very much in the news now with the onset of people around the country falling ill possibly due to vaping. State and federal health officials are working to discover what the connection might be, and those who do vape are encouraged to stop while these investigations continue.

Early illness symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, coughing, and fever, followed by shortness of breath that can become so extreme it can prompt an emergency room visit or require hospitalization.

Some patients need supplementary oxygen, including a ventilator.

As of early September, there were several hundred people ill, and a rising number of deaths due to the illness. Because no specific type of liquid or device had been identified, cessation across the board has been recommended.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has noted a heighted risk for people who vape THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. According to the FDA, a significant subset of samples of vaping fluid used by sick patients included THC and also contained a chemical called vitamin E acetate.

Symptoms of lung cancer

One reason lung cancer is so difficult to treat is that it tends not to show symptoms in the early stages. Once it has become more advanced, these are some signs:

  • A new cough that doesn't go away
  • Coughing up blood, even a small amount
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Bone pain
  • Headache

As with any other health concern, the potential for lung cancer should be discussed with your physician. What better time than Lung Cancer Awareness Month to schedule a physical, where this and any other health concerns you may have can be reviewed? If you’re a smoker, there’s no better time to quit alongside thousands of others who are doing the same.