August 1st is World Lung Cancer Day, which gives us the opportunity to spread awareness about this disease. Lung cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the world and claims more lives yearly than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined.
Luckily, lung cancer is also one of the most preventable cancers. Your lifestyle plays a significant role in your risk factors for developing this disease. World Lung Cancer Day was created to educate people worldwide on prevention. Here are three ways to reduce your risk factors for lung cancer.
1. Stop Smoking
The number one cause of lung cancer is smoking tobacco. Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and other forms of inhaling smoke provide an ideal environment for cell mutation. This puts you at risk for not only lung cancer but also other lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. Even small-cell lung cancer is uncommon among people who are not smokers.
Although cigarette use is declining in the U.S., more than 30 million adults in the U.S. are still smoking. It is imperative that you try to quit if you are one of those people. Once you stop smoking, your risk for cancer is lowered almost immediately. The longer you stop smoking, the healthier your lungs become.
2. Avoid Second-Hand Smoke
Cigarettes pose a threat to people who are not smokers as well. Second-hand smoke contains all of the same tar and carcinogens that can damage lung health, although in smaller amounts. No amount of second-hand smoke is safe, and even if you’ve never smoked, being surrounded by people who smoke can put your health at risk.
People can find themselves exposed to second-hand smoke in multiple environments, including at home, at the workplace, or in other public areas. Studies have shown that being exposed to second-hand smoke (often referred to as passive smoking) at an early age can damage your lungs as they develop. Your risks of lung damage also increase if you are exposed to second-hand smoke as an adult.
Exposure to second-hand smoke over long periods of time is associated with a higher risk of heart and lung cancer and worse outcomes for cancer patients. If you are not a smoker or just recently quit, it’s important that you also seclude yourselves from spaces where people do smoke. This is an important tip for ex-smokers and people who are trying to quit. By staying away from people who smoke, you are also less likely to smoke.
3. Be Aware of Air Pollutants
It is possible that you could be surrounded by substances that can increase your lung cancer risks. Below are a few toxins that you may come across in your daily life.
Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that is a byproduct of soil and rock decomposition. We are surrounded by radon all of the time. In small doses— such as when it’s diluted outside— radon does not pose a risk to your health. However, breathing in high concentrations of this gas could be deadly. This can happen when radon gets trapped in homes and buildings.
Radon exposure is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. About 21,000 people die every year due to radon exposure. The radiation in the gas damages your lungs over time. These risks are higher for those who smoke. Unfortunately, radon gas is odorless and colorless, which makes it nearly impossible to detect. Symptoms also take a long time to develop, and it is difficult to connect these effects to radon exposure.
If you’re worried about your risk of exposure, you can have your home tested to see the radon levels in your home. Increasing airflow— such as opening windows or turning on fans— can reduce the amount of radon in your home, as well as patch up ground-level cracks in your floors.
Another silent yet deadly air pollutant is asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that was used in many building and heat-resistant materials. However, this miracle ingredient has been found to cause serious damage to internal organs when inhaled or ingested.
A vast majority of people are exposed to asbestos at work. Occupations that involve removing asbestos, destroying or repairing old buildings, or working with old appliances can put you at risk of being exposed at high levels. Family members of these workers are also at risk of asbestos being brought home attached to their loved one’s clothes, car, or even their body.
There is a potential to be exposed to asbestos in the home if your house was built before 1980. If you have any repairs or deterioration in an older home, it’s important that you have your house tested for asbestos to ensure that you’re not contaminating your home.
Asbestos exposure can lead to rare forms of lung cancer including mesothelioma, which could take decades to develop after exposure, and has a short life expectancy. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure, so preventing exposure is crucial.
Diesel is a fuel that is used in vehicles with larger engines, such as trucks, buses, and construction vehicles. As this fuel is burned, it releases gas and soot into the air, both of which contain dangerous chemicals. Three decades of studies have shown a connection between diesel exhaust and lung cancer.
It’s difficult to know just how much diesel exhaust someone has been exposed to. Most people are exposed to high levels at work, by living in areas with lots of diesel traffic, or through frequent traveling.
Know the Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer can take years to develop, with most people being diagnosed with the disease after age 65. This is a very difficult disease to diagnose because lungs are internal organs, meaning they cannot be seen or touched. This is why should know the early signs of lung cancer, and let your doctor know if you have multiple risk factors for developing lung cancer.
Early signs of lung cancer include:
- Shortness of breath
- A worsening cough
- Constant chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Unexpected weight loss
Speak with your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. If you are high risk, your doctor may suggest that you receive regular lung cancer screenings before these symptoms to ensure you’re healthy. Early detection of lung cancer could increase your chances of beating cancer, so it’s important to be aware of any changes that may be happening in your body.
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