Lung Cancer Awareness Month: Everything You Should Know
by Jane Meggitt
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and there is some good news in the battle against this dreaded disease. New, targeted treatments are reducing the number of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. The number of cases has also fallen, most likely due to fewer people smoking. Still, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in this country.
Lung Cancer Awareness Month
Each year, lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. This year, approximately 230,000 people in the U.S. will receive a lung cancer diagnosis. Nearly 136,000 will succumb to the disease. However, federal funding for lung cancer research is far lower than for any of these other types of cancer.
Every cancer awareness month has a ribbon color attached to it, and for Lung Cancer Awareness Month, that color is pearl or white. Wearing a pearl or white ribbon — or using white in some creative way such as nail polish — can help raise awareness, according to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America.
Other ways to raise awareness, as well as funds, for lung cancer research include:
- Donating to organizations fighting lung cancer.
- Sharing awareness on your social media accounts.
- Share stories of lung cancer survival.
What Is Lung Cancer?
There are two primary types of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell. The latter is more common than the former. For both types, smoking is the main cause.
Subtypes of non-small cell lung cancer include adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinomas start in the cells secreting mucus. Non-smokers are most likely to develop adenocarcinomas, as are women and younger people. Squamous cell carcinomas start in the cells lining the inside of the lungs. Large cell carcinoma appears anywhere in the lung. It often grows and spreads rapidly.
Small cell lung cancer accounts for about 15% of lung cancers. It is an aggressive cancer that generally starts in the bronchial tubes.
While lung cancer originates in the lungs, it may spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body. While it can spread anywhere, it most often heads to the liver, bones, brain and adrenal glands.
Lung Cancer Risk Factors
Smoking remains the greatest risk factor for developing lung cancer. Secondhand smoke is another major risk factor. So, even if you never smoked, living with those who did increases the likelihood of developing the disease. A family history of lung cancer also heightens risk.
After smoking, the second leading cause of lung cancer is radon exposure. Since radon is an odorless gas originating in rocks and soil, many people do not realize that it is trapped in their homes or workplaces. Regular testing for radon in homes is recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. Indoors, the gas is most frequently found in basements.
Occupational exposure to carcinogenic substances is another leading cause of lung cancer. It is among the most common cancers related to occupation. The most vulnerable are workers in the mining industry and those involved with asbestos production or use. Agricultural workers may develop lung cancer from exposure to certain pesticides and herbicides. Those employed in the X-ray or and radiation technology field are also at risk.
If you are at an elevated risk for lung cancer, speak with your doctor about undergoing regular screening. This screening is performed using low-dose CT scans.
The most common symptoms of lung cancer include:
- A cough that persists or worsens
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain that gets worse when breathing deeply or coughing.
- Coughing up blood or red phlegm
- Constant fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Appetite loss
If lung cancer metastasizes, symptoms may include:
- Bone pain especially in the back or hips.
- Jaundice if the cancer spreads to the liver.
- Lymph node swelling in the neck or beneath the collarbone.
- Seizures or headaches if the cancer spreads to the brain.
If experiencing any of these symptoms, see a doctor at once.
One reason for the high lung cancer mortality rate is that the disease is seldom diagnosed in its early stages. By the time a diagnosis is made, the cancer has usually advanced.
Test for diagnosing lung cancer include:
- Imaging tests: X-rays can detect an abnormal mass in the lungs. A CT scan can detect even smaller lesions.
- Sputum testing: Patients coughing up sputum may have the material examined under a microscope, which can reveal the presence of cancer cells.
- Biopsy: The doctor removes a small amount of tissue for examination by a pathologist. The tissue is generally removed via a bronchoscopy. This procedure involves passing a lighted tube with a small camera attached to it down the throat into the lungs. The doctor can view the lungs and take a small tissue sample for biopsy.
- Needle biopsy: A needle is guided into the chest wall and lungs by CT scan or X-ray. This method of retrieving a tissue sample for analysis may also be used.
Once cancer is diagnosed, staging tests are performed to determine if metastasis has taken place. These tests include:
- CT scans
- PET scans
- Bone scans.
Lung Cancer Treatment
Treatment depends on various factors. These may include the type or subtype of the cancer, the stage and the patient’s overall health.
Surgery removes the tumor, and the size of the tumor dictates the type of surgery and how much of the lung is removed. In some cases, the entire lung is taken out.
Treatment before or after surgery to kill cancer cells may include radiation or chemotherapy. If a patient with a smaller lung cancer cannot undergo surgery, they may receive the intense radiation therapy known as stereotactic body radiotherapy.
Targeted drug therapies go after specific cancer cell abnormalities. Immunotherapy harnesses the patient’s immune system to fight lung cancer. Cancer cells can evade immune system cells by producing proteins. Immunotherapy interferes with the protein producing process.
For 70 years, Yosemite Pathology and Precision Pathology has advanced anatomic pathology in the Western United States. Today, our practice encompasses more than 20 board certified anatomic pathology specialists offering a broad range of specialties. For more information about our services, contact us today.
Jane Meggitt’s work has appeared in dozens of publications including USA Today, Zack’s, Financial Advisor, nj.com, The Houston Chronicle and The Nest. She is a graduate of New York University.
The New England Journal of Medicine – “The Effect of Advances in Lung-Cancer Treatment on Population Mortality”
Cancer Treatment Centers of America – Risk factors for lung cancer
Lung Cancer Foundation of America (LCFA) – November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon