November is Lung Cancer Awareness month. Unfortunately, most lung cancers do not cause any symptoms until they have spread or are in the later stages of the disease and can’t easily be cured. Early detection is the key in the battle against lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. The first component in fighting this disease is prevention, and in order for prevention to occur, one must understand the risk factors.
There are a number of risk factors that may increase your risk of lung cancer, including:
▪ Smoking: About 85 percent of lung cancer occurs in current or former smokers of cigarettes, cigars and pipes. The longer you smoke and the more you smoke per day, the greater your risk. The most important thing someone can do to reduce his or her risk of developing lung cancer is to quit smoking.
▪ Exposure to secondhand smoke: Breathing in the smoke of others increases the risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent. Secondhand smoke also increases that risk of heart disease and stroke.
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▪ Exposure to radon gas: Radon is a naturally occurring gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. It cannot be seen or tasted. Indoors, the radon can become concentrated and breathing it in exposes your lungs to small amounts of radiation. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer and homes should be tested for high radon levels.
▪ Exposure to asbestos: When asbestos is inhaled, the fibers can irritate the lung and may eventually cause lung disease and a higher risk of developing lung cancer. Wearing personal protective breathing equipment can reduce the risk of exposure when working around asbestos.
▪ Exposure to other cancer-causing agents: Workplace exposures to substances including arsenic, diesel exhaust, nickel, chromium and other cancer-causing agents can increase cancer risk. The government and industry have taken measures to protect workers but it is important to limit exposure whenever possible.
▪ Family history: Genetics are an uncontrollable risk factor. If a family member has a history of lung cancer, you may have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. It is critical to modify risk factors, such as quitting smoking, to decrease your overall risk.
At Mount Nittany Health, we are proud to offer a multidisciplinary approach through our incidental Lung Nodule and Lung Cancer Screening programs, located at the medical center. The lung nodule program works to address the growing number of patients diagnosed with pulmonary nodules — a small round or oval-shaped growth in the lung smaller than three centimeters — and ensure appropriate follow-up. The Lung Cancer Screening program is for at-risk patients including being a current or former smoker, age 50 or older, having a family history of lung cancer and/or have had occupational exposures. The goal of the program is to find lung cancer at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be effective.
Janet Cady is the lung nodule program coordinator at Mount Nittany Medical Center.