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Cancer Cure & Prevention Series: Four Things about Smoking and Lung Cancer

Publication: Indo American News, Houston

When people think of cancer, they naturally focus on their experience with it in their families, friends and associates. We often pay attention to breast and prostate cancer due to how commonly they are diagnosed. Unfortunately, lung cancer is the deadliest cancer. This is mainly because it is often diagnosed after it has spread regionally to lymph nodes or distantly elsewhere in the body. In this month’s article, Dr. Div Mehta shares information on lung cancer, smoking and prevention. Fortunately, smoking in the Indo-American community has declined significantly. However, it is still a concern and something we need to always be aware of.
-Vivek S. Kavadi, M.D.

Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in Texas, and each year kills more men and women than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. In 2014, an estimated 15,520 new lung cancer cases will be diagnosed in Texas, and 11,257 Texans are expected to die from the disease.

For years, anti-smoking campaigns have touted the same message – “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer.” Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any American unaware of the strong link between the two. However, during Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, it’s important to highlight some lesser-known facts about lung cancer and smoking that can still have a big impact on your health.

1. Smoking causes lung cancer…but not all lung cancer is caused by smoking.

According to the American Cancer Society, while cigarette smoking is by far the most important risk factor for developing lung cancer, smoking accounts for up to 87 percent of all lung cancer deaths. This means that there are thousands of people diagnosed with lung cancer each year who have never smoked. Other lesser-known risk factors for lung cancer include exposure to secondhand smoke, as well as ongoing exposure to radioactive gas, asbestos, certain metals like arsenic, radon, diesel exhaust, air pollution, and other substances.

Genetics can also make you more susceptible to developing lung cancer. People with a parent or sibling who had lung cancer have a higher than average risk of developing the disease, even if they are nonsmokers. Those who are more genetically prone to the disease should be extra cautious and reduce exposure to carcinogens as much as possible.

2. Screening exams aren’t as readily available for lung cancer.

Mammograms help detect breast cancer…but for lung cancer there isn’t a specific screening test. However, recent studies indicate that CT scans can be a valuable screening tool that helps detect lung cancer at early, more treatable stages. This research could lead to an approved screening test in the near future.

People ages 55-80 with a history of heavy smoking, who smoke now, or who quit within the past 15 years may be at a higher risk for lung cancer and should consider a yearly low-dose CT to screen for lung cancer, which could reduce risk of dying from lung cancer.

It’s important to watch for early signs and symptoms of lung cancer. Lung cancer symptoms vary with each patient. People with these symptoms should consult their physician:

  • Chest pain made worse with deeper breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • Coughing up blood or a cough that won’t go away
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Wheezing, especially new onset of wheezing
  • Breathing trouble, such as shortness of breath
  • Frequent or persistent lung infections
  • Weight loss with no known cause

Many of these symptoms could indicate a number of other conditions, but they can also be signs of lung cancer. It’s important to trust your gut – if you are not feeling right, don’t hesitate to consult your physician.

3. Tobacco use causes more than lung cancer.

In the United States, the leading cause of preventable illness and death is tobacco use, according to the National Cancer Institute. In addition to lung cancer, smoking can cause numerous other types of cancer including bladder, cervical, esophageal, kidney, lip, larynx, mouth, acute myeloid leukemia, nasal cavity, pancreatic, sinuses, stomach, and throat cancer. Smoking also contributes to heart disease, emphysema, bronchitis, and stomach ulcers.

4. Many states ban smoking to protect residents’ health.

The most important thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is stop smoking, or distance yourself from those who do. As of January 2014, 28 states had enacted comprehensive laws banning smoking in all enclosed public places, including all bars and restaurants, with exemptions in select common places like casinos, private clubs, or cigar bars.

Texas does not currently have a comprehensive smoking ban in place. However, according to Smoke-Free Texas, 32 cities in the state are currently covered by similar comprehensive smoke-free indoor ordinances.

In the absence of a smoking ban, avoid indoor areas like sports bars and restaurants that have a high-concentration of smokers. This includes cigars and pipe smoke, which also increase the risk of lung cancer.

For more information on the links between lung cancer and smoking, please visit www.TexasOncology.com.

Dr. Div Mehta is a radiation oncologist at Texas Oncology–Deke Slayton Cancer Center, 501 Medical Center Blvd. in Webster, Texas.

This story was originally published in Indo American News.

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