Did you know that the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer? To be more precise, two men who portrayed the iconic character succumbed to lung cancer while another three died from diseases related to cigarette smoking. As sad and ironic as their plights were, it just goes to show that smoking cigarettes is harmful to your health. It says right there on the packaging.
This November, the world observes Lung Cancer Awareness Month 2023 with the theme being Education, Empowerment, and Eradication. Established in 1995 by the Lung Cancer Alliance, its prime objective is to educate people about lung cancer, including its impact, risk factors, symptoms, prevention, and treatment options. It also aims to teach people how to detect the signs and symptoms so they can seek prompt medical attention.
Furthermore, Lung Cancer Awareness Month promotes lifestyle changes and behaviors that can help reduce the risk of lung cancer. The month-long event offers support to those affected by the disease and also advocates for increased research funding and better healthcare access. You can help raise awareness through social media by using the hashtags:
Here are some specific things you need to know about lung cancer:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following ways to help lower your risk of having lung cancer:
Study shows that 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths in the United States are caused by cigarette smoking. Simply put, if you don’t smoke, you lessen the risk of getting lung cancer.
Avoid secondhand smoke
Even if you don’t smoke, you can still develop lung cancer through exposure to secondhand smoke or passive smoke. Non-smokers can inhale the harmful substances in the smoke causing damage to their lung cells, which may lead to the development of cancerous cells. Make sure your home and vehicles are smoke-free. Also, avoid public places where other people are smoking.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can enter homes through the ground and accumulate indoors. It doesn't cause lung cancer directly but its radioactive decay products can damage lung tissue when inhaled. This increases the possibility of developing lung cancer over time. Improve the ventilation in your home and seal all cracks and other openings to keep radon out.
Most of you already know that carcinogens can cause cancer. What some may not know is that these substances are not only found in tobacco smoke. Industrial chemicals like asbestos, benzene, and formaldehyde are known carcinogens. The same goes for air, water, and soil pollution like vehicle exhaust.
Exposure to ionizing radiation like X-rays and ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning beds can also be carcinogenic. Eating processed meats and foods cooked at high temperatures as well as drinking alcohol excessively can also increase the risk of cancer.
It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of lung cancer in order to detect and treat it early. Some things to watch out for include:
- Persistent or chronic cough that worsens over time.
- Pain or discomfort in the chest, shoulder, or back that’s often felt with deep breathing or coughing.
- Shortness of breath which may indicate blockage or inflammation in the airways.
- Wheezing or a whistling sound when breathing due to blocked airways.
- Coughing up blood or the presence of blood in the sputum or phlegm.
- A persistent change in voice or hoarseness that doesn't improve.
- Feeling fatigued all the time.
- Significant and unexplained weight loss.
- Frequent respiratory infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
- Difficulty swallowing may indicate issues with the esophagus.
- Swollen lymph nodes between the lungs.
Aside from watching out for the signs and symptoms, you should also regularly visit your doctor for a checkup. Even if you don't show any of the symptoms, you can go through a screening test for lung cancer. This is especially necessary if you’re at a high risk.
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), these are the people who need to undergo lung cancer screening:
- Those who have smoked an equivalent of 1 pack of cigarettes each day for 20 years or so
- Current smokers
- Former smokers who have quit within the past 15 years
- People aged 50 to 80 years old
As Lung Cancer Awareness Month 2023 comes to a close, let us carry the torch of awareness and advocacy forward into the future. Let us continue to educate everyone about lung cancer and the dangers of smoking, pollution, and other risk factors, and let us show support to those affected by lung cancer all year round.