The topics of smoking and lung cancer (primary carcinoma of the lung) are well documented. One of the most critical facts about lung cancer is that smoking is THE major cause. Tobacco smoke also causes chronic lung disease and contributes to cancer of the bladder, pancreas, and kidney.
Lung cancer normally takes many years to develop. Incidence tends to peaks between the ages of 55 and 65 years. The changes in the lung however can begin almost as soon as a person is exposed to carcinogenic chemicals.
Soon after exposure begins, a few abnormal cells may appear in the lining of the bronchi (the main breathing tubes). Gradually as you continue your exposure to these substances, more abnormal cells appear. Some will become cancerous and tumor forming.
If you stop smoking however, the risk of lung cancer decreases. Year on year, abnormal cells are replaced by normal cells. After ten years, the risk drops to a level that is one-third to one-half of the risk for people who continue to smoke. Quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing other smoking-related diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, emphysema and chronic bronchitis but there are many more benefits to quitting smoking.
Key Facts about Lung Cancer
Speaking of the lung cancer, the smoker is having significantly higher health risks, than non-smoker. So a man who continues to smoke until he dies has about 2300% higher risk of dying of lung cancer than non-smoker, so he is 23 times more likely to die of lung cancer, as compared with if he had never smoked.
Of course, the overall size of that risk is influenced by how common the disease is. A lifelong non-smoker has less than half of one percent chance of dying of lung cancer by the age of 75. A smoker who quits smoking by age 40 has a 6% chance of dying of lung cancer by age 75. If the smoker keeps smoking until they die or reach age 75, then they have a 16% cumulative risk of dying of lung cancer. These risks are amazingly big, when one remembers that for the smoker to get lung cancer they also have to survive and not be killed by one of the other common illnesses caused by smoking (e.g. COPD, heart-attack etc). There are some other striking facts and stats:
- Primary carcinoma of the lung is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women.
- It accounts for approximately 32% of cancer deaths in men and 25% in women.
- Current or former cigarette smokers make up approximately 90% of patients with lung cancer.
- Men who smoke one pack a day increase their risk 10 times compared with non-smokers.
- Men who smoke two packs a day increase their risk more than 25 times compared with non-smokers.
- The more you smoke and the longer you smoke, the greater your risk.
- Of the 180,000 people diagnosed in the United States alone each year, 86% will die within 5 years of diagnosis.
While nicotine itself is not considered to be carcinogenic, each cigarette contains a mixture of carcinogens, including a small dose of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) among other lung carcinogens, tumor promoters, and co-carcinogens. Carcinogens such as NNK and PAHs require metabolic activation to exert their carcinogenic effects; there are competing detoxification pathways, and the balance between metabolic activation and detoxification differs among individuals and will affect cancer risk.
As these chemicals are deposited into the lungs year on year they cause DNA damage, oxidative stress and inflammation, which promote the initiation and growth of tumors. It is essentially the DNA damage, and the inability of the body to repair that damage, that results in cells starting to divide and multiply in a deviant way that ends up growing into a malignant tumor. Because the lungs are such essential organs for life (ie. healthy lungs are necessary for breathing) and because lung cancer is not easy to detect and cure at an early stage, lung cancer is very often fatal, with a 5-year survival rate around 15%. In many cases the cancer metastasizes and affects other organs of the body.
Different Types of Lung Cancer
There are two major types of lung cancer:
- Non-small cell lung cancer - consists of 3 types:
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Ademocarcinoma and
- Large cell carcinoma
- Small cell lung cancer also called oat cell cancer. It usually spreads to different parts of the body more quickly than non-small cell and accounts for about 20% of all lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
When symptoms occur, lung cancer is often advanced. Warning signs include:
- Chronic cough
- Persistent cough
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- An increase in mucous production
- Wheezing (Noisy breathing)
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss & loss of appetite
If you smoke or have been a smoker you are in a high risk category. Bear in mind these are also characteristic signs of many other lung problems. So the best advice would be to see a doctor to find out the cause.
Tests and Diagnosis
Lung cancer can be readily identified by a simple chest x-ray, or a more specialized type of x-ray known as a CT scan. So if you are concerned, ASK for one.
When you go for a doctor's examination, you are likely to be asked many questions about your medical history, including questions about possible exposure to hazardous substances. Other leading causes of lung cancer are work related exposures - through substances like asbestos, uranium, arsenic, and certain petroleum products.
Further tests and biopsies (samples taking) may be necessary. For example is you are experiencing increased mucous production.
If cancer is found, it may not always be curable, but every cancer is treatable. If left untreated however, it can spread to the brain, liver, bone, and lymph nodes.
Lung Cancer Treatment
Treatment for lung cancer will vary from person to person depending on a variety of factors:
- Current health
- Type, size and location of cancer
- Whether or not tumor has spread
The most effective treatment plans for lung cancer related to smoking normally start with an action plan to quit smoking.
- Quitting removes the major cause of the cancer and makes both treatment and prevention of new cancer development more effective.
- Quit smoking products and aids can help: Zyban, Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).
After quitting smoking, standard curative treatment is the next step. These are: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of these methods, called combination therapy.
Surgery is generally used in limited stages of disease and may cure lung cancer by removing the tumour and relieving it's symptoms. The extent of the surgery may involve removing part of a lobe, a whole lobe, or the entire lung.
Some tumors cannot be removed because of their size or location.
This is a form of external x-ray that kills cancer cells. It is used to relieve pain and tumor symptoms and eliminate or decrease the size of the tumor itself.
Chemotherapy is the use of medication, to decrease the size of tumor or eliminate cancer. Treatment may be in the form of pills, injections or catheter (drip).
The end result of these treatments is largely beneficial. Unfortunately there are likely to be side effects. You should consult your doctor to see which are most likely to affect you.
1. Quit smoking - NOW
Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. It is estimated that 87% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking. As soon as you quit, your body reaps the benefits of being tobacco free. Quitting smoking is the BEST defense against lung cancer.
2. Include fruits and vegetables in your diet
Fruits and vegetables are rich with antioxidants and flavonoids. Antioxidants and flavonoids help protect your cell's DNA and repair damaged cells.
3. Tested your home for radon.
Radon is the result of broken down uranium. It is a radioactive gas that cannot be seen, felt, smelled or tasted. Uranium occurs naturally in the soil, and the fear is that homes are being built over natural deposits, creating high levels of indoor radon exposure, which can lead to lung cancer.
4. Know what you are being exposed to in the workplace.
If you are exposed to fumes, dust, chemicals, etc in the workplace, you have a right to know what you are being exposed to. Gasoline, diesel exhaust, arsenic, beryllium, vinyl chloride, nickel chromates, coal products, mustard gas, and chloromethyl ethers are all carcinogens and can be found in some work environments. Talk to your employer about limiting exposure.
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