November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women.
This month, we spoke with Seth Robinson, MD, Pulmonologist at The Woodland Clinic, about ways to lower your risk of lung cancer.
Who is most at risk?
Cigarette smokers are by far the most at risk of developing lung cancer. Smoking in the United States is linked to about 80 to 90% of lung cancer deaths, according to the CDC. Smoking any amount increases the risk of developing lung cancer and the more a person smokes, the higher the risk. People who smoke other tobacco products such as cigars or pipes are also at increased risk.
Second-hand smoke is the smoke from tobacco products that is inhaled by someone other than the person who smokes and can be harmful to anyone who is exposed to it, even for a short time. Second-hand smoke is particularly harmful to children and can cause serious health problems, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), poor lung development, bronchitis and pneumonia.
Environmental factors such as exposure to asbestos, radon, and smoke from wood burning have also been linked to lung cancer.
It’s never too late to quit smoking
Long-term smokers should not be discouraged by the idea of quitting. Quitting smoking is beneficial at any age and helps lower the risk of developing cancer. Ten years after quitting smoking, your risk of dying from lung cancer halves, and quitting after a while is good for your health.
The first step in quitting is preparing to quit. Check out one of these resources to get started or talk to your doctor at your next appointment.
- 1-800-EXIT NOW
- Text “QUIT” to 47848
Recognizing the difficulties of quitting smoking can be a stimulating tool to help you meet the challenge. Besides arming yourself with information, setting up a support system is a great way to ensure your success. Let those around you know your intention to quit smoking so they can help you stick to it.
What about electronic cigarettes?
When electronic cigarettes first became available, it was largely believed that they were probably a lesser evil than standard cigarettes. Today, the data regarding electronic cigarettes and lung cancer is still evolving and many physicians in the respiratory community are concerned.
“The idea that electronic cigarettes can be a bridge to quitting remains controversial,” said Dr Robinson. “While some patients may switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes and then quit altogether, clinical trials have not been clear as to whether patients are truly successful in quitting smoking. “
Now that more research is available on the effects of electronic cigarettes, a major concern is Acute lung injury induced by electronic cigarettes or vaping (EVALI). EVALI is a serious lung disease associated with the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping products. Because we are still learning about this disease and about e-cigarette use in general, Dr Robinson recommends refraining from using them altogether.
Who should consider screening for lung cancer?
Current nationally accepted guidelines recommend annual lung cancer screenings for people who meet all of the following criteria:
- Currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years, and
- have at least 30 packs of smoking history *, and
- Are between 55 and 77 years old.
* One pack-year is defined as the average consumption of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. To find your smoking history by year, multiply the number of packs smoked per day by the number of years you have smoked. For example, a person who smoked one pack per day for 20 years would have the same pack-year history as a person who smoked two packs per day for 10 years. Both would amount to “a packet of 20 years”.
Dr Robinson encourages anyone who meets the current criteria to ask their doctor for testing. “For people who still smoke, it’s important to seek help to quit,” said Dr Robinson. “Your doctor can help point you in the right direction and provide you with valuable information and resources to help you quit smoking. “
Quitting smoking can seem like an impossible challenge, but there are support systems and resources available for anyone who wants to quit smoking. Know that many people before you have arrested, and so can you.