This past year, many cities in the Birmingham area passed new no-smoking laws in businesses, restaurants, and bars. While it has been an adjustment for many, it has been a blessing for non-smokers, who for years had to come home with smokey hair, smokey clothes, and some sore throats.
What a lot of people, unfortunately, also brought home were the seeds for lung cancer. Second-hand and first hand smoking have been major players in cancer and cancer deaths over the past 80-90 years.
Diagnosed in almost 225,000 Americans each year, almost a quarter of diagnoses are made when there are no symptoms. Which is a big reason why people should get their checkups on a regular basis - 25% of lung cancer diagnoses are made when doctors are checking for something else.
I won't spend too much time telling you that smoking is bad for your health. Everyone knows that. You may not know that 90% of lunch cancers come about from tobacco use. And while the situation locally is improving, there are still places where you'll be around someone smoking. Most of the smoke from a cigarette doesn't go into the smoker's lungs - it goes into the air, where you, me, or anyone around can inhale it.
Quick fact: Over 40% of children who visit the ER for severe asthma attacks live with a smoker.
To avoid second-hand smoke - avoid smokers! And convince those you know to stop smoking as well. Set up a few 'house and car rules' for your friends - no smoking in the car or home, or around your children.
Another area that deserves some attention is the inhalation of asbestos and radon gases. Asbestos are being slowly removed from our workplaces - but they're not gone yet. Radon gases come up from the ground and into your house, so make sure that the next home improvement project you have or if you are buying a new home, have a professional check your radon exposure.
Experts are also attributing lung cancers to pollution. Especially for individuals living in densely populated areas with a high level of vehicles and industry.
When it comes to prevention of lung cancer, it's a fairly easy road map - AVOID THE BAD THINGS!! Don't smoke, don't be around smokers, and keep yourself in an environment where you are breathing in good, clean air. It's the implementation of that road map that is difficult, and no one will get it 100% right, but by making the right decisions and placing yourself in good situations will greatly reduce your chances.
As mentioned earlier, lung cancer can be an unwelcome surprise - 25% of diagnoses coming about from another analysis. Chest x-rays are also not enough - you're not out of the woods if an x-ray comes back negative. CT Scans are truly the best way to screen for lung cancer. Other procedures such as a bronchoscopy, sputum testing, needle biopsy, or a thoractomy (an operation) may be used in diagnosis.
Lung cancer is a tough one, no doubt. Surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, medication, or a combination of all may be required. Treatment is dependent upon the cancer stage and condition of the patient.
Be sure to be smart about your surroundings and influence those around you to do the same.
Joanne Rossman, MD