November is lung cancer awareness month and state health officials urge people to learn more about lung cancer and its risk factors.
Americans die of lung cancer more than any other type of cancer. In fact, 4,166 men and women in Indiana died from lung cancer in 2008, the most recent year with a full data set.
Smoking is the most well-known and greatest risk factor for developing lung cancer. The longer you smoke and the more packs a day you smoke, the greater your risk for developing the disease. It is thought that 87 percent of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking. A person’s best defense against developing lung cancer is to never begin smoking, but current smokers can greatly reduce their risk of lung cancer by quitting. Avoiding places where smoking is allowed is also helpful.
“People who quit smoking before the age of 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years by half compared to those who continue to smoke,” said State Health Commissioner Gregory Larkin, M.D. “The Indiana Tobacco Quitline is a great resource for smokers of all ages. By simply calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW, Hoosiers who smoke are provided with resources and support to help them quit for good.”
The effects of quitting smoking begin immediately. In fact, within 20 minutes, blood pressure and pulse return to normal levels. Within 72 hours, the chance of a heart attack drops and sense of smell and taste begin to return. Within three months, lung capacity increases. Within one year, risk of heart attack is cut in half. And within five years, heart disease rate drops to that of a non-smoker.
Secondhand smoke can also increase your risk for developing lung cancer. A non-smoker who lives with a smoker has about a 20 to 30 percent greater risk for developing lung cancer.
“The first question many people with lung cancer are asked is ‘did you smoke?'” said Dr. Richard Freeman, director of Thoracic Surgery and Medical Director of Cancer Care for St.Vincent Hospital and board member for the American Lung Association in Indiana. “The reality is that there are smokers and nonsmokers with lung cancer. There are individuals who quit smoking 20 years ago that are now facing the diagnosis of lung cancer. It doesn’t matter how the disease formed in their bodies; what matters is that they are treated with compassion and have hope for a cure.”
Other risk factors for lung cancer include exposure to carcinogens like asbestos, radon and air pollution.