Health Alert: Even if You Don’t Smoke, You May still be at Risk for Lung Cancer
November 3, 2017
Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer for men and women. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), approximately 14% of all new cancers every year are either small cell or non-small cell lung cancers – and the ACS estimates that this year, lung cancers will take the lives of nearly 156,000 Americans.
Some people are at a higher risk for developing lung cancer. Lung cancer is typically found in older people; the average age at diagnosis is around 70-years-old. The ACS also reports that black men and white women are at a higher risk of getting lung cancer (10-20% higher than other groups). Early detection is critical: the faster that lung cancer is found, the greater the chances of effective treatment and survival.
People who smoke cigarettes, pipes or cigars are more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers, although 10-15% of new cases are in non-smokers every year. The ACS estimates that 80% of all lung cancer fatalities are directly related to tobacco smoking. Other known risk factors include exposure to asbestos or radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named radon as the second-leading cause of lung cancer.
Various medical studies have found that some dietary supplements, such as beta carotene, may actually increase a person’s risk for developing lung cancer – especially if they’re already a tobacco smoker. Before deciding to take any dietary supplements or making any other lifestyle changes, you should consult directly with a medical professional and discuss the overall benefits and risks. Researchers have also a correlation between arsenic in drinking water and the development of lung cancer, although it is more common in countries other than the United States.
Even though lung cancer and smoking are often thought of together, the truth is that there are even more risk factors outside of tobacco products that thousands of unsuspecting Americans face. Research has found that air pollution, past radiation therapy to the chest and a family history of lung cancer can all contribute to a greater chance of development.
People can be exposed to radon in their homes, at school and in many other types of buildings. Some buildings are made from radon-containing substances, but radon is also present in rocks and soil. According to data from the ACS, 20,000 lung cancer-related fatalities each year are caused by exposure to radon, ranking it as the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the country.
Researchers continue to investigate whether or not talcum – or talc – powder or smoking marijuana may increase a person’s chances of getting lung cancer. Talc powder has been linked to several cases of ovarian cancer in women, but researchers wonder if the lungs of workers who are exposed to breathing in industrial-grade talc are in danger. When people smoke marijuana, tar and other contaminants – the same ones often linked to lung cancer – are present. But whether or not marijuana directly endangers someone in respect to lung cancer is still up for debate.
Lung cancer is especially difficult to detect early. Typically, people will not experience symptoms until the cancer has progressed to an advanced – and therefore untreatable – stage. However, in recent years, a new type of screening exam has been tested in studies and found to help save people’s lives. The test is called a low-dose CT scan (LDCT); it takes pictures of a person’s chest and can better detect abnormalities in the lungs.
In a study including more than 50,000 people, LDCTs were given to current or former cigarette smokers. The researchers found that when patients were tested over a three-year period that their chances of dying from lung cancer decreased by 20% — and their overall risk of dying from any other cause went down by 7%. But, as researchers continue to test the effectiveness of LDCTs, there is still no easy way for non-smokers to pursue early detection methods.
Research studies and other kinds of medical inquiries quite simply have not focused enough on the various lung cancer risks, prevention, detection and treatment for non-smokers. Smoking is a known contributor to the development of lung cancer and therefore can directly be prevented – but what about for people who are at higher risk but lack the adequate resources to get help? Women may be especially at-risk for this, because some studies find that as many as 20% of women with lung cancer are non-smokers.
The best thing you can do if you are concerned about your risks for developing lung cancer is to have an honest and open conversation with your doctor. Although more often than not symptoms won’t present until much later on, sometimes they do. Here are some of the most common ones to watch out for:
- Feeling tired or weak;
- Coughing up rust-colored sputum (phlegm) or coughing up blood;
- Shortness of breath;
- Chest pain that worsens with laughing, deep breathing and/or coughing;
- Infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis that worsen and/or don’t go away;
- Weight loss accompanied by loss of appetite; and
- New onset of wheezing.
Whether or not you are a smoker, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should see a doctor and discuss whether or not a lung cancer screening test is the appropriate course of action.
While it is important that we all understand the serious effects and consequences of cigarette, pipe and/or tobacco smoking, it is also important to understand why anywhere between 16,000 and 24,000 people who don’t smoke or have a history of smoking are diagnosed with lung cancer every year. If scientists can better understand these risks, they will also better understand effective methods of prevention, detection and treatment of lung cancer in non-smokers.
Allentown Personal Injury Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Representing Injured Individuals Since 1947
If you have any questions or concerns about a recent lung cancer diagnosis, please contact our Allentown personal injury lawyers at Galfand Berger. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading, and Lancaster, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.