Six lung cancer myths debunked

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Only life-long smokers are at risk for lung cancer, right? Wrong.

This is just one of the common misconceptions surrounding the second most common type of cancer. Not only is it common, it’s deadly.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Every year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

Smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, making up almost 25% of all cancer deaths. About 80% of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking.

Despite its worldwide prevalence and devastating effects, lung cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. To understand how we can fight it, we must know the truth about this disease. There are many myths about lung cancer. Below are some common misconceptions and the facts you should know.

Myth 1: If I don’t smoke, I don’t have to worry about lung cancer
Lung cancer occurs in both smokers and nonsmokers — no one is exempt from the risk of developing lung cancer. Each year, as many as 20 percent of those who die from lung cancer have never smoked. Environmental exposure to radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is the leading risk factor for lung cancer among nonsmokers. Additionally, people who regularly work with asbestos in settings such as plants, shipyards and mines, are at a higher risk of getting lung cancer.

Myth 2: Lung cancer cannot be detected early
What makes lung cancer such a deadly disease is that the majority of patients are diagnosed in the latter stages, often after the cancer has spread to other organs. However, the odds of survival increase when the cancer is detected early. The best way to find lung cancer in its earlier stages is through regular low-dose CT lung screenings.  

The Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Port Huron offers low-dose CT scans for lung cancer screenings. This test uses a lower amount of radiation than a regular CT scan to image the lungs. An individual might be a candidate for a lung screening if he or she:
Is between the ages of 55 and 77
Has no signs or symptoms of lung cancer
Is a former heavy smoker who has quit within the past 15 years
Is still smoking and has a 20+ pack-year tobacco smoking history (pack-years formula: number of years smoked x average number of packs per day = pack years) 
Has not had a chest CT in the past 12 months

“As part of our comprehensive cancer services at McLaren Port Huron, we want to bring every opportunity for our patients to have advanced screening, diagnostics, and treatment for cancer,” says Dr. Matthew Johnson, radiation oncologist at the Karmanos Cancer Institute. “Lung cancer screening is particularly important for the local community because lung cancer is the second most common cancer in St. Clair County.” 

When detected early, lung cancer patients have more treatment options and a far greater chance of survival. While it is very important to begin screening, it is equally as important to continue screening at regular intervals.

Myth 3: Lung cancer only occurs in older people
Lung cancer is typically diagnosed at or above the age of 65; however, this disease can affect anyone of any age. Although less common, lung cancer in young adults requires more extensive, aggressive and advanced forms of treatment.

The most common lung cancer symptoms include a cough that does not go away, coughing up blood, chest pain with deep breathing, hoarseness, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss. If you go to your doctor when you first notice symptoms, your cancer might be diagnosed at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be effective.

Myth 4: Vaping is safe for my lungs
People who vape have a higher risk of developing lung cancer than those who have never smoked or vaped. The chemicals in the steam inhaled while vaping can contain harmful and addictive substances, such as nicotine; heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead; flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease; and cancer-causing agents. It damages the DNA of the lung cells, often leading to acute, chronic inflammation of the lungs.

Myth 5: If I’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, I can continue smoking
Smoking cessation is even more important after a cancer diagnosis. Stopping tobacco use can increase the likelihood of a better chance for success, fewer side effects and a faster recovery from treatment. Smokers have an increased rate of side effects from chemotherapy and radiation; these include fatigue, heart and lung problems or infection. Smoking also increases the chance of recurrence and increases the risk for a second cancer.

To prevent lung cancer, you need to know the facts and debunk the myths. Talk with your physician about your chances of developing lung cancer and the things you can do to prevent it. If you feel you might be a candidate for a low-dose CT lung screening, discuss the risks and benefits with your physician and call McLaren Port Huron’s Oncology Nurse Navigator at 810-989-1003.