If there’s one activity the entire human race does most frequently, it’s breathing. And yet, we do it subconsciously and rarely ever stop to think about the quality of air we are consuming or the effect it can have on our lungs. More specifically, do any of us ever stop to about the impact of air quality in relation to lung cancer?
Let’s talk lung cancer. There are two types of lung cancer, Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) and Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC). (1)Although NSCLC is most commonly diagnosed, each diagnosis is nothing to sneeze at. Lung cancer mortality is the leading cause of death amongst men and women, in numbers exceeding the death of those with colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.
In 2014 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 215,951 deaths as a result of lung cancer, not to mention the 45,221 deaths reported as a result of another cancer that develops in the lungs.
Early Warning Signs + Symptoms
Generally, symptoms of lung cancer do not appear until the disease has reached an advanced stage. When symptoms are caused by lung cancer, they are often mistaken for other problems such as infection or long-term effects from smoking, delaying diagnosis.
Common symptoms of lung cancer include: (2)
- Infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia that return or do not go away
- Chest pain that worsens with deep breaths, coughing or laughter
- Coughing of blood or rust-colored phlegm or sputum
- Prolonged cough that worsens or does not go away
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Fatigue or weakness
- Hoarseness of voice
Additional symptoms may appear when lung cancer spreads to distant organs:(2)
- Bone pain (generally in the back or hips)
- When cancer spreads to the brain or spinal cord changes in nervous system occur such as headaches, weakness, numbness, dizziness, balance problems, and seizures
- Jaundice, yellowing of the skin and eyes can occur when cancer spreads to the liver
- Lumps near the surface of the body due to cancer spreading to the skin or lymph nodes
If you are between the ages of 55-74, are in fair to good health, have a history of smoking at least 30-packs of cigarettes for a year, or are still smoking or have quit smoking within the last 15 years, the American Cancer Society recommends discussing lung cancer screening with your doctor or other health care provider. Visit The American Cancer Society to learn more about lung cancer screenings and additional signs and symptoms of lung cancer.
Because symptoms of lung cancer do not usually appear until the disease is at an advanced, incurable stage, lung cancer is not often detected early. Some lung cancers are found early on by accident, as a result of tests for other medical conditions. For example, lung cancer may be found in tests done for heart disease, pneumonia or other lung conditions. (3)
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For years, doctors have tried and looked for quality lung cancer screenings. Only in recent years, have doctors discovered a test that can be used to screen for lung cancer in people at high risk, The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST). This screening is a lung cancer screening trial, which compared two ways of detecting lung cancer: low-dose helical (Spiral) computed tomography (CT) and standard chest X-rays to detect lung cancer early on. (3)
Treatments for lung cancer are similar to those of other cancers where the chance for recovery and the overall prognosis depends on the stage of cancer as well as the patient’s age, gender, and general health. (3)
Currently, surgery and adjuvant therapy (including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy) are common for lung cancer patients in addition to clinical trials of experimental lung cancer treatments and palliative care. (3)
Surgery options include:
- Lobectomy: Removal of an entire lobe of the lung. Thought to be the most effective type of surgery, even if the tumor in the lung is very small. (3)
- Wedge Resection: If surgeons cannot remove an entire lobe of the lung, the surgeon can remove the tumor, surrounded by a margin of healthy lung. (3)
- Segmentectomy: When the entire lobe cannot be removed, a segmentectomy removes a portion of the lung where cancer developed (3)
- Pneumonectomy: If the tumor is close to the center of the chest, the surgeon may remove the entire lung. This surgery even has been proven successful for 11-year mesothelioma cancer survivor, Heather Von St. James. (3)
Radiation therapy – Is given to the neck or center of the chest after careful planning using CT scans of the chest to lessen the amount of healthy lung tissue exposed to radiation. (3)
Chemotherapy – Uses drugs to destroy cancer cells by stopping the ability of cancer cells to grow and divide. Systematic chemotherapy enters the bloodstream by way of IV or oral capsule, to reach cancer cells throughout the body. Carboplatin (Paraplatin) or Cisplatin (Platinol), Gemcitabine (Gemzar), Nab-paclitaxel (Abraxane), Paclitaxel (Taxol), Pemetrexed (Alimta), Vinorelbine (Navelbine) are common immunotherapy drugs used to treat lung cancer. Often 2 or 3 drugs are used together, or just one alone. (3)
Targeted therapy – Targets specific cancer cell genes, proteins or tissue that contribute to cancer growth and survival. Anti-angiogenesis therapy and epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors (EGFR) and drugs that target other genetic changes are common examples of target therapy treatments. (3)
Immunotherapy treatments – Prevent or treat disease with substances that stimulate immune system response. Nivolumab, Pembrolizumab, Atezolizumab (Tecentriq), and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) are the latest, breakthrough immunotherapy treatments for lung cancer as well as other cancers that develop in the lungs. The FDA has approved many of these drugs, whereas only immunotherapy clinical trials exist for rare diseases that develop in the lung, such as mesothelioma. (3)
To learn more about lung cancer treatments and treatment side effects visit Cancer.net.
Aside from regular exercise and eating a nutrient-dense diet, lung cancer prevention depends greatly on air quality and preventing the inhalation of the following toxins:
First and second-hand cigarette smoke is the number one risk factor of lung cancer due to the 7,000 chemicals that tobacco smoke contains, many of which are poisons. At least 70 of the chemicals are known to cause cancer in both people and animals.
People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer or die from lung cancer than those who do not. Cigarette smoke also causes cancer in many places of the body including the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voice box, trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix and may even cause acute myeloid leukemia. Smokers who take beta-carotene supplements have an increased risk of developing lung cancer.
Radon is an odorless, tasteless gas produced from a natural break down of rocks, dirt and soil that can be trapped in houses and buildings. Radon gas contributes to approximately 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year, making radon gas inhalation the leading cause of lung cancer following cigarette smoke.
The EPA recommends having your home tested for radon, considering that one of fifteen homes in the United States is thought to contain concerning levels of radon levels.
Asbestos is a natural silicate mineral found naturally in the environment, water and soil. Due to its fibrous nature and malleability, asbestos has been used in various construction materials and products, globally. Although generally safe if undisturbed, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Once natural asbestos fibers or asbestos fibers of materials that contain asbestos become airborne are inhaled or ingested, they can develop disease up to 10-50 years later. Risks of developing lung cancer due to asbestos exposure are higher in those who smoke.
Consider the air you breathe to prevent lung cancer. The average adult at rest inhales 7 to 8 liters of air per minute, totaling 11,000 liters per day of which approximately 550 liters is pure oxygen. Add radon gas, cigarette smoke, and airborne asbestos particles to the composition of the air you breathe and you are left with a carcinogenic breathe bound for lung cancer.
Consult with your doctor or healthcare provider if you have been exposed to these toxins and if unaware, have your home tested for radon gas and asbestos. If a smoker or you are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, seek help to quit or support friends and family to quit. Visit Mayo Clinic’s lung cancer prevention page and consult with your doctor for additional information on lung cancer.
A Note On Diet: The food you eat plays a big role in your body’s ability to fight cancer cell development. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer found that fried foods, dairy products, and desserts were linked to a higher risk of lung cancer. For more on the dietary factors of all types of cancer, read this.
- Types of Lung Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2017, from http://www.lungcanceralliance.org/get-information/types-of-lung-cancer.html
- Lung cancer: Reduce your risk by quitting smoking. (2015, September 25). Retrieved August 15, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lung-cancer/basics/symptoms/con-20025531
- Lung cancer: Reduce your risk by quitting smoking. (2015, September 25). Retrieved August 15, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lung-cancer/basics/treatment/con-20025531
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