Sporting healthy lungs - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Sporting healthy lungs

Protect yourself from America's top cancer killer

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Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 12:00 am

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the top cause of cancer death in the United States.

In women, 26 percent of lung cancer cases lead to death, and in men, the statistic is 31 percent. That’s significantly more than the second largest causes — breast cancer for women, at 15 percent, and prostate cancer for men, at 10 percent.

The American Cancer Society estimated that, last year alone, there were 213,380 new lung cancer diagnoses throughout the country. Of those, 3,740 were in Arizona.

This is why prevention, early detection and treatment are vital.

Lung cancer has many risk factors. One of the more common is tobacco use of any kind. It accounts for nearly 90 percent of diagnosed lung cancers.

Occupational or environmental exposure to substances such as asbestos, radon gas, ionizing radiation and heavy metals (nickel, arsenic, chromium) increases risk.

The disease has hereditary causes, too; however, it is unclear which genetic markers are linked to lung cancer. But people with first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) diagnosed with lung cancer before they’re 50 years old, or who have multiple family members diagnosed with lung cancer, are at most risk.

Finally, lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis are risk factors.

Many people don’t have symptoms, especially early on. Symptoms may include unintentional weight loss, prolonged coughing or change in coughing pattern, getting easily short of breath, chest or bone pain, coughing up blood, or a change in voice or hoarseness.

Many diseases can mimic the symptoms of lung cancer. If you suffer any of these, see your doctor soon.

Your doctor may use a number of tests in evaluating patients for lung cancer. These include various blood and sputum tests and initial imaging, such as a chest x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan.

Further diagnostic testing may involve more advanced imaging studies and even bronchoscopy (direct fiber optic visualization of lung airways). 

A suspicion nodule or mass may need biopsy to confirm diagnosis and help determine the treatment regimen.

Remember, not all nodules or lesions seen on an imaging study are cancer. 

Prevention and Early Detection

The No. 1 measure for preventing lung cancer is to never start smoking. If you are a smoker, the best preventive measure is to stop.

Studies have shown that when a former smoker has stopped and maintained tobacco cessation for 15 years, the risk of developing lung cancer is reduced by nearly 90 percent. Remember, tobacco addiction did not occur overnight. Neither will cessation.

There are some things you can do that may help reduce your risk of lung cancer. Avoid secondhand smoke. Avoid alcohol — especially in excess, as frequent smoking and alcohol go together. Make healthy lifestyle choices. Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables, and exercise.

Some data suggest regular use of antioxidants may help prevent lung cancer. Test your home for radon gas, which can be found naturally in the soil. Avoid exposure to some of the occupational or environmental causes of lung cancer. If you do work around these substances, make sure you have appropriate protection from exposure. Talk to your doctor regarding your risk factors and regarding whether any further diagnostic testing is warranted. 

As technology continues to evolve, so does the chance for early diagnosis of cancers. For now, it is still considered controversial to screen for lung cancer routinely. Some new promising studies use CT scan technology and sputum tests; however, more data is needed to support their wide use.

Always remember to discuss this and any other health-related issues with your doctor before initiating any changes to your lifestyle or treatment plan. This article should not be a substitute for personalized health care.

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