Lung Cancer: Not Just For Smokers
Lung cancer is widely known as being a deadly result of smoking, however it can still afflict those who have never picked up a cigarette. Cancer, while sometimes triggered by an outside factor, is the random proliferation of cells. The body is supposed to regulate cell division, but when something interferes with its ability to maintain a balance, cells can divide at an exponential rate, causing tumors. Benign tumors pose a small threat to the body, but can usually be surgically removed. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, start in one part of the body and spread to others. This form must be treated with more complicated and less effective methods. Lung cancer spreads quickly once it forms, and it is among the hardest types to treat. In the first year, only 40% are expected to survive; by the third year, the number drops to 10%. Lung cancer takes more lives each year than colon, prostate, and breast cancer do combined, making it the deadliest form of cancer.
No. 2 Cause of Lung Cancer: Radon Gas
Tobacco products have been blamed for anywhere between 80% to 96% of lung cancer cases, but staying away from cigarettes does not guarantee healthy lungs. Secondhand smoke increases the risk, making up approximately 3,000 of the 160,000 lung cancer deaths each year. However, even without exposure to tobacco products or smoke, a person can still contract lung cancer. Asbestos has become a well known factor in causing mesothelioma, but it is also linked to lung cancer. Asbestos fibers can stay in the lungs for a lifetime, and people who have had exposure are five times as likely to develop lung cancer, even if they have never smoked. Radon gas, a product of uranium decay, causes around 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. This makes it the second leading cause of lung cancer. While most people would not consider radon gas to be a threat, the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that almost 7% of houses contain a dangerous level of the gas, which can travel through soil. It has been shown that genetic predisposition can attribute to lung cancer development. History of lung disease, including prior lung cancer, increases the risk as well. Approximately 1% of lung cancer comes from air pollution. While smoking increases the chances, any of these risk factors alone can cause lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
What makes lung cancer even more dangerous is that in most cases, it is not found until it has already spread to other parts of the body. Many times, there are no symptoms. When there are symptoms, they can be so small that a person will not seek medical attention, and the cancer will not be caught until a routine scan, or until the cancer spreads and causes more drastic symptoms in other regions. Minor symptoms might include a chronic cough, loss of appetite, nail problems, shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue. More serious signs are coughing up blood, joint and bone pain, unexplained weight loss, facial paralysis and chest pain. Fluid in the lungs can also, but not always, suggest cancer. Doctors can check by performing chest x-rays, sputum cytology tests, CT scans, MRI’s, blood work or PET scans. Sometimes, a biopsy on the lung is necessary. The most effective means of prevention is to avoid cigarette smoke, but eating a fruit and vegetable rich diet can lessen the risk as well. Lung cancer rarely occurs in people under the age of 45, but after that age, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and schedule regular tests, especially if any of the risk factors apply. Early detection raises the chances of survival. Too often, people make the mistake of assuming that they are not at risk for lung cancer because they have never smoked. Yet every year, lung cancer continues to kill almost 200,000 people. If more people were aware of the lesser known causes, perhaps more people would realize the importance of early detection.