Contributed by- Dr. Dhrity Vats
Smoking tobacco is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, but people who have never smoked can develop lung cancer too. If you have been smoking for years, you may believe it is “too late” to quit. But quitting at any point in time reduces your risk for developing lung cancer, as well as other cancers that grow passively.
What is your risk factor?
A risk factor is something that increases a person’s chance of getting some disease. Some risk factors are changeable, but those depending on hereditary or family history cannot be changed. But having a risk factor, or even several does not mean that you will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors.
One of the major reasons for lung cancer worldwide is smoking. About 80% of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking. Researches done by different government bodies in most countries show that lung cancer claims more lives each year than colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancers combined. The risk of lung cancer among smokers is many times higher than among non-smokers. Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 poisonous chemicals. At least 70 are known to cause cancer in people or animals. People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. Even smoking a few cigarettes a day or smoking occasionally increases the risk of lung cancer. The more years a person smokes and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the more risk goes up. So, control yourself if you smoke or guide someone who smokes near you.
Secondhand smoke/ passive smoking
Smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, bidis, hookahs or cigars can be equally harmful to those living or being with them for a long time. Secondhand smoke is thought to cause more than 7,000 deaths from lung cancer each year.
Exposure to radon gas
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. It is a colorless and odorless gas. Unsafe levels of radon can accumulate in any building, including homes. Breathing it in exposes your lungs to small amounts of radiation. This may increase a person’s risk of lung cancer.
Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogenic products
At the workplace, you could be exposed to a lot of chemicals and products. Especially those who work in mines, mills, textile plants, places where insulation is used, and shipyards are at a risk of lung cancer. Inhaled chemicals or minerals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel compounds, chromium compounds, coal products, mustard gas, and chloromethyl ethers are carcinogenic products. Diesel exhaust also is known to increase the risk of lung cancer.
In industrial hubs and cities with lots of traffic, air pollution increases the risk of lung cancer. Research has proved that there is an increased risk of lung cancer from indoor air pollution related to the burning of wood, charcoal, dung or crop residue for cooking and heating also.
Family history of lung cancer
About 8% of lung cancer is due to inherited factors. This is one of the factors that is not controllable. If you have survived cancer of any other part of the body, the risk of having lung cancer multiplies, especially if you smoke. Your risk of lung cancer may be higher if your blood relations (parents, brothers or sisters, or children) have had lung cancer.
Symptoms of lung cancer
Our body is a wonderful machine that sends signals of any malfunctioning. If you are having some of any of the following symptoms, do pay heed, when investigated at an early stage, it can be treated well.
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak
- Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
- New onset of wheezing
How to prevent from Lung Cancer?
There is no way to prevent lung cancer, but risk of having it can be reduced by
- Stop Smoking
- Avoid secondhand smoke
- Test your home for radon
- Avoid carcinogens at work
- Eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables
- Exercise most days of the week
Lung cancer is the perfect example of ‘Prevention is better than cure’ as these risk factors are highly controllable and can prevent you from a fatal disease.