Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer in the world, and is the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women. World Lung Cancer Day takes place annually on August 1st, and is a time dedicated to lung cancer awareness and the promotion of overall lung health. Every year, World Lung Cancer Day helps inform communities of the risk factors that may lead to lung cancer, like smoking cigarettes and other harmful tobacco products. This observance also sheds light on the preventative measures we can advocate for in an effort to stop the development of lung cancer, and ultimately find a cure for this devastating disease.
What Causes Lung Cancer?
When cancer begins in the lungs, it is considered lung cancer. Like any form of cancer, lung cancer can spread to other areas of the body through the blood or lymph system and form new tumors, which means that the cancer is metastasizing. Small cell and non-small cell are the two different categories of lung cancer. There is no direct cause of lung cancer, but there are a number of risk factors that may increase a person’s chance of developing the disease.
Smoking tobacco is one of the most common risk factors linked to lung cancer. According to the CDC, tobacco smoke contains at least 70 carcinogens that can lead to cancer. When inhaled, the smoke is believed to damage the cells that line the lungs. Repeated exposure over long periods of time can lead to respiratory ailments. Cigar smoking, pipe smoking, and exposure to secondhand smoke are also linked to increased lung cancer risks. Other risk factors include the following:
- Family history of lung cancer: If you have a family member who had lung cancer, like a parent, sibling, or child, you may be twice as likely to develop lung cancer at some point in your lifetime, compared to someone without a family member with lung cancer.
- Environmental and occupational exposure: Exposure to certain chemicals at home or at work may enhance the risk of developing lung cancer. Radon is one of the most common chemicals linked to lung cancer. Inhaling high levels of radon over an extended period of time can be extremely dangerous. Asbestos exposure is also known for causing lung issues. Though primarily known for causing mesothelioma cancer, asbestos is still extremely dangerous when inhaled or swallowed and can enhance lung cancer risks. Arsenic, nickel, chromium, tar, and soot are other known toxins that are linked to lung cancer.
- Previous radiation therapy: You may experience an increased risk of developing lung cancer if you’ve undergone radiation therapy in the chest area for another form of cancer.
What are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?
People with lung cancer may not experience or show signs of the disease until it has progressed to a later stage. As the cancer intensifies, the symptoms may become more noticeable and more severe. Some of the most common signs of lung cancer include:
- A new, persistent cough that may worsen over time
- Cough that produces blood
- Hoarseness or wheezing
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the chest, back, or shoulders that worsens when coughing, laughing, or breathing
- Unexplained weight loss or sudden loss of appetite
- Feeling weak or tired
Symptoms can vary between cases, but it’s important to be proactive if a new or persistent symptom arises. Catching lung cancer in its early stages is vital for receiving an accurate diagnosis and timely treatment. Once the disease progresses and potentially spreads to other organs, it can be more difficult and strenuous to treat.
Defeating Lung Cancer
Taking the preventative measures to keep yourself and your loved ones from developing lung cancer is extremely important. One of the most common risk factors linked to lung cancer — smoking cigarettes — is a habit that is entirely preventable. Encourage those you love to choose other methods over smoking in an effort to eliminate the risks of developing lung cancer. Attending routine doctor checkups and physicals is also important for maintaining overall lung health.
While it may be years or decades until a cure for lung cancer is discovered, it’s vital that we raise awareness to the risk factors and symptoms of this disease on World Lung Cancer Day. Promoting lung and general health best-practices can also be done all year round.