Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. Smoking cigarettes and exposure to second-hand smoke, radon, asbestos, and other pollutants can all cause lung cancer. Patients with a family history of lung cancer face a higher risk as well. In addition, new studies have also linked vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes to lung cancer.
While many providers regularly encourage their patients to quit smoking, more can be done to prevent new cases of lung cancer. Around 14% of all new cancers are lung cancers. It’s the second-most common type of cancer among men and women, second only to prostate cancer among men and breast cancer among women. According to the American Cancer Society, there are around 228,150 new cases of lung cancer each year, and 142,670 people die from the disease annually.
Let’s take a closer look at lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Prevention and Awareness
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, giving providers an avenue to talk to their patients about the dangers of the disease and how to prevent it. The best ways to prevent lung cancer include:
- Quitting smoking or avoiding it all together, including vaping, cigars, and electronic cigarettes.
- Reducing exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants, such as second-hand smoke, radon, and common household chemicals. Encourage your patients to test their home and office for radon and other pollutants on a regular basis. Individuals can use the AirNow.gov website to check pollution levels in their neighborhood. If pollution levels are high, encourage your patients to remain indoors as much as possible.
- Avoiding respiratory infections by having your patients wash their hands regularly. Common infections can lead to more serious health issues. Have your patients avoid crowds during flu season and practice proper hygiene. They should also receive their yearly flu shot.
- Getting regular check-ups, so you have a chance to listen to your patient’s lungs and check for any irregularities, especially if they have a family history of lung cancer.
- Exercising regularly can also help reduce lung cancer.
The next time you see your patients, talk to them about reducing their risk of lung cancer.
Vaping and Lung Cancer
We’ve heard a lot about vaping over the last couple of years. Vaping has exploded in popularity among teenagers and young adults as an attractive alternative to smoking cigarettes, but vaping can lead to lung cancer as well.
Scientists at New York University recently analyzed the effects of vaping on mice. While mice aren’t humans, this is the first study linking vaping to lung cancer. According to the results, e-cigarette vapor caused notable DNA damage in the mice’s lungs and bladders, and it “inhibits DNA repair in lung tissues.” Out of the 40 mice exposed to e-cigarette vapor with nicotine over a period of 54 weeks, 22.5% developed lung cancer and 57.5% developed precancerous lesions in the bladder.
While more research needs to be done on the link between vaping and lung cancer, leading researchers have concluded that vaping is likely “very harmful” to humans.
The long-term effects of vaping have yet to be studied, but it’s important to keep your patients informed as the medical community learns more about this issue. If some of your patients use electronic cigarettes, talk to them about the dangers of vaping and how it can damage their lungs.
Screening for Lung Cancer
Screening regularly for lung cancer is an important part of prevention. According to the American Lung Association, if a patient’s lung cancer is detected at an earlier stage, their 5-year survival rate can increase from as little as 4% to 55%, based on stage 1 versus stage 4.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screenings for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography for adults aged 55 to 80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. Screenings may be discontinued once a person has not smoked for 15 years or develops a health problem that substantially limits life expectancy or the ability or willingness to have curative lung surgery.
While the prevalence of smoking has decreased in recent years, approximately 37% of U.S. adults are current or former smokers. Increasing age and regular exposure to tobacco smoke are the two most common risk factors for lung cancer.
Lung cancer is known for having a poor record when it comes to prognosis. Nearly 90% of all those with lung cancer die of the disease. However, early-stage non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) has a better prognosis and can be treated with surgical resection.
The medical community has a long way to go in terms of preventing lung cancer. Vaping and electronic cigarettes have muddled the debate over smoking and inhaling nicotine, but providers can start setting the record straight. Keep these facts in mind as you talk to your patients about lung cancer.