Awareness months are popular these days, and it can be easy to lose sight of their intention and importance. By raising awareness for health conditions, patients can more quickly recognize a potential illness and make more informed decisions for treatment.
In November we strive to heighten lung cancer awareness. Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the US, actually causing more deaths than the next three most common cancers combined (colorectal, breast and pancreatic). Each year in the US, an average of 218,500 people are diagnosed with lung cancer, and an average of 142,000 die from it.
Lung cancer occurs when abnormal cells cluster together in the lungs. These clusters grow and destroy healthy cells around them.
Common Causes: The mutation of healthy cells happens when they are exposed to dangerous chemicals that are inhaled, such as cigarette smoke or other carcinogens. Today, it’s no surprise that smoking can lead to lung cancer. Unfortunately, non-smokers can also develop lung cancer. Common causes of lung cancer include:
- Secondhand smoke
- Family history
- Exposure to asbestos, nickel, soot, tar, chromium and arsenic—by inhalation
Lower your risk: Nine out of 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking, but in addition to not smoking, there are other ways to lower your risk:
- Stay away from secondhand smoke, which increases your risk of getting lung cancer by 20-30%.
- Get your home tested for radon, an odorless, tasteless gas that can leak through cracks in your foundation. One out of 15 homes has high radon levels, and it’s actually something that can be fixed once detected.
- Quit smoking. Easier said than done. Talk to your physician about programs and resources to help you. You can also visit www.lung.org for helpful resources.
Getting vaccinated for all respiratory infectious diseases is a sure way to keep your lungs healthy. This includes, COVID-19, influenza, pertussis and tuberculosis.
So how do you recognize lung cancer? Most people do not actually have symptoms until the cancer is advanced, and these symptoms can also occur with other illnesses. So, we always advise patients to talk to their physician if they have a combination of any of the following:
- Persistent or worsening cough
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Coughing up blood
If you are diagnosed, our Merle Cancer Care Center is here for you and your family from diagnosis to treatments. We also offer support services tailored to your individual needs and can connect you to important resources for additional treatment options.
In some cases, you can actually screen for lung cancer. But because of the risks, it’s usually only recommended for heavy smokers ages 50 or older. Talk to your physician to see if screening is an option for you.
Dr Junfeng Wang, is a provider in the Merle Cancer Care Center specializing in hematology and oncology. He attended Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, China and completed his residency at Yale Medical School of Medicine in 2008. Dr. Wang continued his training with a Fellowship at UW Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in hematology/oncology. Wang is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Medical Oncology. To make an appointment with Dr. Wang, please call the Merle Cancer Care Center at (360) 299-4200.