Meigs Health Today: November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

By Courtney Midkiff

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.  The Lung Cancer Awareness Month Coalition states that more than 2.2 million people worldwide will get lung cancer each year. Lung cancer kills more people each year than any other cancer. The American Cancer Society concurs with this fact. The Ohio Cancer Fact and Figures Report states that lung and bronchus was a leading site/type of cancer incidence in Meigs County in 2014-2018. Unfortunately, 77% of those lung and bronchus cancer cases were diagnosed at a late stage in 2014-2018.

Anyone can get lung cancer. Yet people who smoke are about 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer than people who don’t smoke and about 80% of deaths from lung cancer are caused by smoking. In Meigs County, 28.3% of adults are current smokers,compared with 21.4% in Ohio and 17% in the United States. People who quit smoking, regardless of age, increase their longevity. Those who quit by age 30 live an average of 10 years longer than if they had continued to smoke. For more information about tobacco cessation, please contact the Meigs County Health Dept. at 740-992-6626 Monday -Friday from 8AM-4PM or the Ohio Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-784-8669.

Besides smoking, what are some other causes of lung cancer?Per the Moffitt Cancer Center, these causes include: 

Radon – Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. It is an odorless, colorless naturally-occurring radioactive gas that can build up inside homes and schools to dangerous levels. Exposure to high levels of radon can cause lung cancer. An estimated 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States are related to radon.

Secondhand smoke – Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds of them are toxic and about 70 can cause cancer. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.

History of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow to the lungs. Symptoms include breathing difficulty, cough, mucus production and wheezing. People with COPD are at an increased risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer.

Family history of lung cancer – Family history of lung cancer increases the risk for the disease in both smokers and never smokers. An estimated 18 percent of lung cancer cases are inherited.

Occupational exposures – This includes exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust and chromium. When a person is exposed to a high level of these occupational hazards, over time some of the fibers lodge deep in the lungs. Irritation caused by the fibers can eventually lead to scarring in the lungs.

Age – Irrespective of smoking history, increasing age is associated with increased lung cancer risk with the average age of diagnosis at about 70

Symptoms of lung cancer include, but are not limited to: Have a new cough that doesn’t go away; Notice a change in a chronic cough; Cough up blood, even a small amount; Develop a shortness of breath or chest pain; Lose weight without trying. Contact your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms above.

Meanwhile, screening can result in the detection of certain cancers including lung and bronchus at earlier stages when treatment is often less intensive and more successful. Screening is known to reduce mortality for lung cancer (among people who smoke or used to smoke). 

The following are American Cancer Society Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines: 55 to 74 years old; In fairly good health; Have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history; Are either still smoking or have quit smoking within the last 15 years. If you are thinking about getting screened, talk to your doctor. If lung cancer screening is right for you, your doctor can refer you to a high-quality screening facility.

Finally, the best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to not smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke. Lung cancer screening is not a substitute for quitting smoking.