Lung Disease: Risk and Prevention

The average person breathes about 2,000 gallons of air a day. It is probably something you forget that you are doing, but healthy breathing is crucial for your body to continue working properly. Your lungs, airways and respiratory system all work together to filter out toxins and pollutants. Respiratory health is important, which is why knowing the risk factors and symptoms of lung diseases can help you spot anything concerning before it becomes a major issue.

Lung Health in the US

Your environment, genetics and family history can all play a part in your respiratory health. Similarly, your age is a factor. Our lungs do not fully mature until we are about 20-25, yet we start to lose the elasticity of full lung capacity by the time we’re 35, according to the American Lung Association. The immune system weakens as we grow older, which leaves us more vulnerable to sickness. In the US alone, nearly 37 million Americans live with a chronic lung disease. Some of the most common respiratory diseases include:

  • Asthma: Asthma is a chronic condition that affects your lung airways. Affecting more than 25 million people, asthma causes your airways to become inflamed, narrowing breathing passages. Common triggers include dust, pollen, pollutants and smoke.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): COPD is an umbrella term of lung diseases that can include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD causes your lungs to become aggravated and thicken, hindering oxygen flow. It is most commonly associated with tobacco use, but exposure to chemicals fumes in the workplace can also lead to this disease.
  • Lung cancer: This disease is a growth of cancer cells within your lungs. People who smoke have the highest risk of developing lung cancer. Because cigarettes have thousands of carcinogens in them, it irritates the lining of the lungs as soon as you take one breath.

Risk factors for Lung Disease

Several factors can increase your risk of developing a lung disease. While some things cannot be controlled, such as family history, there are many lifestyle factors to be aware of that can play a role in your chance of disease.

  • Smoking: Cigarettes contain thousands of carcinogens that can affect your respiratory system. Smoking accounts for approximately 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths, so cessation if you are a long-time smoker can significantly decrease your risk of disease. Smoke damages the blood vessels in the lungs, constricting your airways.
  • Secondhand Smoke: Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of developing lung cancer by 20-30 percent. For those who have pre-existing conditions such as asthma, secondhand smoke can greatly irritate the lungs and trigger an asthma attack.
  • Environmental toxins: Breathing in harmful particles, vapors and gases can lead to cancer. Older homes and buildings can contain toxins in worn-down materials and release hazardous dusts into the air. In occupational settings like construction and demolition, workers who are exposed to carcinogens such as asbestos and radon have much higher chances of developing mesothelioma or lung cancer.

Lung Disease Prevention

In addition to smoking cessation and being cognizant of harmful toxins, there are things you can do to help decrease your chance of lung disease. The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute offers a Lung Cancer Screening Program centered around offering a yearly CT scan for those who are at an increased risk of lung cancer. Criteria for lung cancer screening:

  • Individuals between the ages of 55 and 80
  • Current or former smokers with at least a 30 pack-year smoking history, who quit no more than 15 years ago
    • Individuals who have smoked one pack a day for 30 years
    • Individuals who have smoked two packs a day for 15 years

With regular screenings, doctors can note and monitor any symptoms that may develop into something more serious.

If you are aware of any family members who had or currently suffer from a lung disease, it is important to inform your doctor so they can be aware of any potential conditions to monitor. Your doctor may recommend smoking cessation or other lifestyle changes to help combat any respiratory issues. In the event of a cancer diagnosis, early detection can be pivotal in providing the most effective treatment and surgery options for patients.

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, the Karmanos Thoracic Oncology Multidisciplinary Team will develop a customized treatment plan to give you the best chance at recovering. Our team includes cardiothoracic surgeons, medical oncologists, pulmonologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, pharmacists, dietitians, social workers and genetic counselors. This team is entirely focused on treating cancers of the chest and shares its collective expertise to create a customized treatment plan for each patient.

In addition, our team devotes time to research investigations, including screening and early detection of lung cancer and mesothelioma, detection and treatment intervention in precancerous cells from the sputum of smokers, combined treatments for locally advanced cancers of the chest, clinical trials of combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy, radiation therapy approaches such as intensive modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), gamma knife radiation therapy for brain metastases and studies of novel targeted drugs. They also collaborate with our Phase I Clinical Trials Program.

To schedule an appointment with the experts at Karmanos, please call 1-800-KARMANOS or request an appointment online.