November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for both men and women.
This month, we talked to Seth Robinson, MD, a pulmonologist with Woodland Clinic, about ways to decrease your risk of lung cancer.
Who Is Most at Risk?
Cigarette smokers are by far the most at risk for developing lung cancer. According to the CDC, cigarette smoking in the U.S. is linked to about 80-90% of lung cancer deaths. Smoking any amount increases a person’s risk for 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 an increased risk.
Secondhand smoke is smoke from tobacco products that is inhaled by someone other than the person smoking and can be harmful to anyone who is exposed to it, even for a short time. Secondhand smoke is especially harmful to children, and can cause serious health problems including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), weak lung development, bronchitis and pneumonia.
Environmental factors such as asbestos exposure, 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 feel discouraged about quitting. Quitting smoking is beneficial at any age, and helps to decrease the risk of developing cancer. Ten years after quitting, your risk of dying from lung cancer drops by half, and quitting after any length of time is beneficial to your health.
The first step in quitting is preparing yourself to quit. Check out any of these resources to get started, or talk to your doctor at your next appointment.
- Text “QUIT” to 47848
Acknowledging the difficulties of quitting can be an empowering tool to help you face the challenge. Along with arming yourself with information, setting up a support system is a great way to ensure your success. Tell your loved ones about your plans to quit so they can help you stick to it.
What About E-Cigarettes?
When e-cigarettes first became available, it was largely believed that they were likely a lesser evil than standard cigarettes. Now, data regarding e-cigarettes and lung cancer is still evolving and many physicians in the pulmonology community have concerns.
“The idea that e-cigarettes can be a bridge to quitting remains controversial,” said Dr. Robinson. “While some individual patients may make the transition from cigarettes to e-cigarettes, then to quitting altogether — clinical trials have not been clear as to whether patients are truly succeeding in quitting.”
Now that more research is available on the effects of e-cigarettes, a main concern is e-cigarette or vaping-induced acute lung injury (EVALI). EVALI is a severe lung illness that is related to using e-cigarettes and vaping products. Because we are still learning about this disease, and e-cigarette use in general, Dr. Robinson recommends refraining from using them altogether.
Who Should Consider Lung Cancer Screening?
Current nationally accepted guidelines recommend yearly lung cancer screenings for people who meet all of the following criteria:
- Currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years
- Have at least a 20 pack-year* smoking history
- Are between the ages of 50-77
*A pack-year is defined as smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. To find your pack-year smoking history, multiply the number of packs per day smoked, by the number of years you have smoked. For example, a person who smoked one pack a day for 20 years, would have the same pack-year history as someone who smoked two packs a day for 10 years. Both would equal “20-pack years.”
Dr. Robinson encourages everyone that meets the current criteria to ask their doctor to be screened. “For people who are still smoking, it is important to ask for help quitting,” said Dr. Robinson. “Your physician can help point you in the right direction, and provide valuable insight and resources to help you quit.”
Quitting smoking can feel like an impossible challenge, but there are support systems and resources available for anyone wanting to quit. Know that many people before you have quit, and you can too.