Lung Cancer Awareness Month is observed annually in November. The goal is to encourage everyone to take a few minutes to review what is known so far about lung cancer, and possibly learn something new.
Although lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women in the United States, it is not on everyone’s radar. This is likely due to a common misconception that it affects only those people who smoke. Of course, smoking is a leading cause of many types of cancer, including lung cancer, but it is not the only cause. The fact is, anyone can get it. Despite the statistics, general risk awareness among the general population remains very low.
This might lead you to wonder about screening (routine tests to check for the condition, even if no symptoms are present). A diagnostic test known as low-dose spiral CT has shown some promise in detecting early lung cancers in heavy smokers and former smokers. Even so, at this time, no major professional organizations, including the American Cancer Society, recommend routine lung cancer screening for either those who have been identified as having a heightened risk level or the population at large. This makes it doubly important for everyone to be aware of the risk factors and to take steps to lower their personal risk levels.
Some of the most common lung cancer risk factors include:
- Tobacco use – The vast majority of lung cancer deaths are attributed to tobacco use, including cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. These products contain a number of known carcinogens that give tobacco users a much higher risk of developing lung cancer than their tobacco-free counterparts. Additionally, the risk level increases along with the duration and frequency of an individual’s tobacco habit.
- Radon – A naturally occurring radioactive gas that is produced when uranium breaks down in soil and rocks, radon cannot be seen, tasted or smelled. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer (and the primary cause among nonsmokers).
- Asbestos – Workplace exposure to asbestos fibers is a significant risk factor for lung cancer. This can occur in certain mines, mills, textile plants, shipyards, and settings where insulation products are used, although asbestos use is now largely regulated (most exposures occurred prior to the 1980s). Both smokers and nonsmokers who were exposed to asbestos also have a greater risk of developing mesothelioma, a type of cancer that starts in the pleura (the lining surrounding the lungs).
- Radiation exposure to the lungs – Individuals who receive radiation therapy to the chest as a treatment for other cancers, such as breast cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, have an increased risk of developing lung cancer, particularly if they smoke.
- Family history – Some studies show that siblings and children of those who have had lung cancer may have a slightly higher risk of developing the condition themselves, especially if the relative was diagnosed at a young age.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, we are committed to educating the public about lung cancer, as we believe that people who understand how the condition develops are more likely to be proactive in protecting themselves. As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, we’ve made great strides in our research with regard to finding better ways to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages (when it is most treatable), as well as improving treatment options for patients who are diagnosed with all stages of the condition. But, there is still more to be done, and Moffitt remains steadfastly committed to winning the fight against lung cancer for all current and future patients.
If you are interested in discussing your personal lung cancer risk profile with an expert in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request an appointment with or without a referral by calling 1-888-MOFFITT or completing a new patient registration form online.