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Exposing lung cancer’s silent threat

Exposing lung cancer’s silent threat

Lung cancer claims more lives than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Historically, lung cancer has been more common in older adults and diagnosed at an advanced stage. Younger women, however, are getting lung cancer at higher rates than men younger than 50, according to a report published in JAMA Oncology.

Dr. DiPernaCostanzo DiPerna, MD a thoracic surgeon with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group, shares insight and resources to help people understand risks, prevention, treatment options and the dangerous long-term effects of using modern “e-cigarettes.”

Risk Factors 
Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In the United States, cigarette smoking is linked to about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Secondhand smoke, or the persistent contact with smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, can also cause lung cancer.  

Certain environmental factors, like asbestos, arsenic and naturally occurring gas or radon, have also been known to cause lung cancer, though the risk of lung cancer from exposure to these elements still remains higher for people who smoke than for those who do not. As with many diseases, the risk for developing lung cancer may also be higher if it runs in your family. Exposure to smoke and environmental factors can have a more severe impact if there are any inherited genetic mutations.

What About Vaping?
“The perception that vaping is safer than smoking is incorrect,” says Dr. DiPerna. Tobacco companies often market vaping pens and products as a “safer” alternative to traditional cigarettes as a means to target a younger demographic. According to the CDC, the use of vapes is not constituted as safe. E-cigarette aerosol generally contains fewer toxic chemicals than that of traditional cigarettes, but the aerosol still contains harmful and potentially harmful substances, including nicotine, heavy metals like lead, volatile organic compounds, and cancer-causing agents. 

Vaping pens, also commonly referred to as  “e-cigarettes,” “vape pens,” and “vapes,” produce an inhalable aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings and other cancer causing chemicals

“Young people have been shown to opt for e-cigarettes over traditional forms due to unique scents and flavors that don’t smell or taste like typical cigarette smoke. This, however, does not make them any better of an option,” explains Dr. DiPerna. It is also important to keep in mind that e-cigarettes and vape pens are not currently approved by the FDA as an aid to help adults quit smoking. 

Prevention + Treatment
The most important thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to avoid smoking or using vaping products and e-cigarettes.

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.

  • Smokefree.gov
  • 1-800-QUIT-NOW
  • 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.

Avoiding secondhand smoke is also an important part of reducing the risk of lung cancer for yourself and those around you. 

The CDC also recommends testing your home for radon and following health and safety guidelines to avoid cancer causing chemicals like asbestos and arsenic in the workplace and at home. 

Screening options are available to those who are at risk for developing lung cancer in the form of a low-dose CT scan. You may qualify for annual screenings if you have a 20-pack year or more history, currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years and are between the ages of 50 and 80 years old.

Thanks to advances in medicine, treatments do exist for those who are diagnosed with lung cancer. Depending on the stage and progression, patients can be treated through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Key Takeaways
Lung cancer takes the lives of many each year. Fortunately, prevention methods exist to decrease your risk. These include:

  • Avoid smoking cigarettes and vaping pens or quit if you currently smoke
  • Opt for a “smoke free” home and car to avoid the effects of secondhand smoke
  • Get your home tested for radon and other carcinogenic environmental elements
  • Talk to your doctor about yearly screenings if you believe that you’re at risk

Your doctor can help you quit. If you think you may be at risk for developing lung cancer or need support on smoking cessation, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. Our “Find a Doctor” tool can help you find a Dignity Health Medical Group physician near you.

Meet Dr. DiPerna