Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women, but is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It kills nearly 163,000 Americans every year. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk, so it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge about the disease and its causes.
What is Lung Cancer?
There are two main forms of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell. Small cell accounts for approximately 20 percent of all lung cancer cases, grows rapidly, and is more likely than non-small cell lung cancer to spread to other organs throughout the body. Non small-cell lung cancer is more common, accounting for about 80 percent of lung cancer cases.
What Causes Lung Cancer?
The risk of developing lung cancer is highest in smokers, but many people who do not smoke also develop lung cancer each year. There are a number of factors that can contribute to lung cancer:
- Smoking is by far the most common cause. Tobacco smoke contains thousands of cancer-causing, or carcinogenic, chemicals.
- Asbestos is a tiny, hair-like fiber that was often used in building materials. When inhaled, it can irritate the lungs and eventually cause lung disease.
- Radon is an odorless gas released by some soil and rocks that contain uranium.
- Industrial substances, including arsenic, uranium, beryllium, vinyl chloride, nickel chromates, coal products, mustard gas, chloromethyl ethers, gasoline, and diesel exhaust, are harmful to the lungs.
- Air pollution often contains traces of various industrial substances, which are harmful when inhaled.
- Tuberculosis can cause tissue scarring, which can be a risk factor for developing lung cancer.
- Genetics can play a part in the development of lung cancer, either by directly causing the disease or by making a person more susceptible to it.
The Role of Tobacco
Smoking tobacco causes almost 90 percent of lung cancer cases in the U.S. In fact, tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S., yet about 42 million Americans still smoke cigarettes — a bit under 1 in every 5 adults. As of 2012, there were also 13.4 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.3 million who smoke tobacco in pipes — other dangerous and addictive forms of tobacco.
Resources to Help You Quit Smoking
The most effective way to prevent lung cancer is to not smoke. If you are a smoker, quitting will greatly lower your risk, as well as provide numerous other health benefits (like controlling hypertension). CDPHP offers several resources to help you quit. And members can benefit from a CDPHP health nurse, who can help get things started.
Looking for more support? Join the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout on Thursday, November 20! Each year, smokers are encouraged to use the third Thursday in November to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By quitting — even for one day — you are taking an important step toward a healthier life – one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.