The calendar page has been turned to November, and with it, a new health awareness, Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Lung cancer was a rare disease in the early part of the 1900s, but as the prominence of smoking increased during and after World War I, so did the disease. It is now a leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the U.S. with more people dying from it than from pancreatic, breast and colorectal cancers combined, but smokers aren’t the only ones getting lung cancer. As more became known about secondhand smoke, it became increasingly evident that those exposed to tobacco smoke were also susceptible to lung cancer.
Workers exposed to asbestos fibers have an increased change of developing lung cancer, but those who smoke have “a risk that is fifty- to ninety-fold greater than nonsmokers.” Naturally occurring radon gas exposure also increases the risk of developing the disease. Individuals may also be genetically predisposed to developing lung cancer. Living around air pollution, having a lung disease or a prior history of lung cancer may also increase the risk.
While anyone can develop lung cancer, about 90% of the cases are associated with smoking and the more you smoke over a longer period of time, the greater your risk of lung cancer. Quitting will decrease your risk of developing the disease with each passing year. Early diagnosis is key to catching the disease, but up to 25% of people report no symptoms prior to the cancer being discovered during routine tests. Check with your doctor if you have symptoms that won’t go away. Both the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society have excellent websites with valuable information on lung cancer.