October 23, 2012 in Health

Obvious link to lung cancer is smoking, and you can fix that

Dr. Alisa Hideg
 

A close friend recently died from lung cancer, which causes more deaths than any other cancer in the United States (around 29 percent).

Lung cancer is very preventable. Around 87 percent of cases in the United States are linked to smoking tobacco. Adults and children who are regularly exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke are also at an increased risk over their lifetime. Never smoking or being around cigarette smoke is the best way to keep your lung cancer risk low.

If you currently smoke, you can reduce your risk by stopping. Although you can never get your risk as low as that of a nonsmoker, every day after you quit smoking, your risk decreases a little bit more. Information about quitting is available from your health care provider, the American Lung Association, www.lung.org or (800) LUNG-USA, and the National Cancer Institute, www.smokefree.gov or (800) QUIT-NOW.

Lung cancer risk is also increased with exposure to asbestos, radon gas and air pollution. High consumption of cured meats (sausage or bacon for example) and alcohol (more than 2 drinks per day) are also associated with higher risk.

Lung cancer is difficult to detect in the early stages, when it is much more treatable, because there are usually no symptoms. Symptoms that may occur include chest pain, a persistent cough, coughing up blood, fatigue, losing weight without trying, loss of appetite, shortness of breath and wheezing.

During later stages of lung cancer, symptoms can include bone pain, eyelid drooping, facial paralysis, hoarseness or changing voice, joint pain, nail problems, shoulder pain, swallowing difficulty, swelling of the face or arms and weakness. Such symptoms can be caused by other conditions as well, so talking to your health care provider is important.

Two main groups of lung cancers exist, non-small cell and small cell; within each group, there are many different types of cancer cells and each grows and spreads differently and responds to treatment differently.

Recommended treatments will depend on the type of lung cancer, the stage it is in, other lung problems present, side effects from the treatment and the person’s general health. Standard treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. Other types of treatments include proton therapy, radiosurgery, gene therapy and nanoparticles to deliver chemotherapy. You can get in-depth information from cancer centers such as Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, www.seattlecca.org or (855) 557-0555, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, www.mdanderson.org (877) MDA-6789, and Dana Farber Cancer Institute, www.dana-farber.org (877) 442-3324.

You may wonder if a clinical trial is right for you or your loved one. Talk with your oncologist for more information. For additional information, the American Cancer Society has a clinical trials matching service that you can call – (800) 303-5691 – to get a list of clinical trials meeting your medical needs. Clinical trials are not right for everyone, and materials from the American Cancer Society may help in making treatment decisions.

As with most cancers, early detection gives the best chance of survival. The current five-year survival rate for the earliest stage of non-small cell lung cancer is 49 percent and 31 percent for small cell lung cancer. Studies are continuing to be done to find a screening method to detect lung cancer early enough to significantly improve patient outcomes and to find more effective treatments. With both, the hope is that the survival rate will improve significantly. There is some evidence that increased intake of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and others) and exercise may decrease risk of lung cancer, but not smoking or quitting smoking is your best strategy. Do it for yourself and your loved ones.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your comments and column suggestions to drhideg@ghc.org.

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