When it comes to personal health, more and more people have grown increasingly aware of how the choices they make today will have an impact for years to come. In addition to eating healthier, more people now include exercise in their weekly routines.
As November is Lung Cancer Awareness, one lifestyle change many have attempted to make, with varying degrees of success, is to quit smoking. While it's often difficult and nerve wracking to stop smoking, it's certainly worth it, as the potential consequences of continuing, most notably lung cancer, should prove a strong enough motivating factor even for those who are struggling mightily to stop lighting. According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly 220,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in 2009, and more than 159,000 will lose their battles with lung cancer this year.
Those statistics are especially frightening when considering many people who smoke are fully aware they are increasing their risk of lung cancer, but continue to smoke anyway. As education about lung cancer is often helpful for those attempting to quit, consider the following information if you or a loved one is attempting to make the lifestyle change that could very well someday save their life.
What is lung cancer?
A significant majority (roughly 99 percent) of lung cancer cases fall into two categories, which are classified based on the size of the cancerous tumor.
Small cell lung cancer is, as its name suggests, associated with those cancers wherein the cancer cells are smaller than typical cancer cells. Instances of SCLC are less common, affecting only about 20 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer, but their comparatively tiny stature does not make them any less harmful. In fact, these cancer cells reproduce rapidly, forming large tumors quickly. As a result of that rapid reproduction, SCLCs, which are typically the result of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, have often spread to other parts of the body before they've even been initially diagnosed.
The most common type of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer accounts for roughly 80 percent of all lung cancer diagnoses. NSCLCs are actually classified into three different subcategories:
- squamous cell carcinomas
- large cell carcinomas
Squamous cell carcinomas originate along the respiratory tract, specifically in the thin, flat cells that line the respiratory passages.
Adenocarcinoma is the most commonly diagnosed form of lung cancer, accounting for 30-40 percent of all cases. This occurs when the cells that form the lining of the lungs become cancerous.
Large cell carcinomas make up about 10 percent of all cases, and are those that appear large and abnormal upon examination under a microscope.
What are the risks for lung cancer?
According to the Lung Cancer Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to providing support and advocacy for those with or at risk for lung cancer, more than 85 percent of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. Simply put, those who are still smoking are putting themselves at a heightened and ultimately unnecessary risk of lung cancer. Of the more than 4,000 chemicals contained in cigarette smoke, the majority have been linked to causing cancer. For those who are trying to quit, research has indicated that a person who quits smoking will have the same risk as a person who never smoked 15 years after quitting. That means a smoker who quits at 30 will, by the time he or she turns 45, have the same risk of lung cancer that a fellow 45-year-old who never smoked has.
But smoking isn't the only thing that increases a person's risk for lung cancer. One additional risk factor is exposure to radon, a carcinogen and byproduct of radium that is present in both indoor and outdoor air. This heightens the importance of having a home routinely tested for radon, as prolonged radon exposure increases the risk for lung cancer.
Other potential causes of lung cancer include exposure to asbestos (which can also lead to mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and stomach) and exposure to cancer-causing agents in the environment.
To learn more about lung cancer or for help with quitting smoking, visit the National Cancer Institute Web site at www.cancer.gov.