Lung cancer affects millions of people every year. Despite its this, many remain unaware of some of the basic facts about this deadly disease.
In the United States, more than 200,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year, with most of those diagnosed, about 116,000, being men. In that same study, a staggering fact is that it will kill more than 160,000 people, which is higher than the number of deaths for breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined. Lung cancer deaths account for almost 30 percent of all cancer-related deaths each year, making it the most common cause of cancer-related death in both males and females.
But mortality rates, at least in men, have taken a downward turn. Peeking around 1993, mortality rates for men have fallen more recently, even while staying relatively stable for women. Black men still retain the highest mortality rate of any group however, followed by white men.
Smoking is the key risk associated with lung diseases. Smokers, and even those who inhale smoke second-hand, are at much higher risk for developing cancer than non-smokers. But other factors also come into play. Asbestos, a fibrous material small enough to become airborne and be inhaled into the lungs, is linked to a specific type of cancer called mesothelioma. Radon and general air pollution also contribute to a higher risk of cancer.
Crucial to preventing lung cancer is avoiding these potentially harmful chemicals and materials. Smokers who quit smoking, even after continuing the habit for years, can help reduce their risk. Of course, avoiding smoking altogether is the most effective way of preventing cancer. Having ever smoked does increase risk, as lungs that have been damaged by smoking never go back to normal, and those who have smoked or still do smoke make up the majority of cancer cases.
Other harmful substances, like radon and asbestos, should be avoided as well. If inhaled, these can damage the lungs and cause lung cancer. Asbestos in particular has become a health concern since the 1970s. Many of those who used to work with the material, particularly in construction-related jobs, inhaled it without realizing the danger and are now seeing that exposure manifest as lung cancer and mesothelioma.
There are active ways to reduce risk as well. Evidence has shown that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may deter lung cancer. And, as cancer tends to develop in scarred areas of the lungs, managing other lung diseases like tuberculosis can also aid in preventing cancer.
Symptoms target the lungs and airways, and may include coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath or wheezing, and bronchitis. Other markers of cancer are weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, and pneumonia.
The only cure for lung cancer is surgery and that only in the earliest stages of the disease. But research and funding is being directed toward searching for ways to combat the disease. However, the amount of funding directed toward lung cancer remains low compared to the number of deaths experienced each year. Roughly $1,500 goes toward cancer research per patient death, compared to almost $5,000 for colorectal cancer, nearly $14,000 for breast cancer and about $11,000 for prostate cancer. This has made it more difficult for researchers to study lung cancer. But organizations like the Lung Cancer Alliance and the National Lung Cancer Partnership are encouraging research and study of the disease in the hope of speeding the road to a cure.