November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month when CTVS is committed to raising awareness about this serious, life-threatening disease. We also want to take a closer look at ways to both prevent and effectively treat it.
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer, but the first leading cause of all cancer deaths.
Smoking is still the foremost cause of lung cancer, but new research is finding that there is another culprit contributing to this often deadly disease.
How can air pollution affect the lungs?
Fine particles present in dirty/polluted air when breathed into the lungs can cause a complex chain of chemical reactions that may eventually lead to the growth of tumors in some people.
Findings now show that as these foreign and harmful air particles are inhaled, the body’s immune system is programmed to “attack” them with a powerful chemical called interleukin. This aggressive reaction of the interleukin can unfortunately also cause dangerous inflammation to occur in healthy cells which may result in mutations and the formation of cancerous tumors.
“I’m not surprised by this one bit,” says CTVS thoracic surgeon and lung cancer specialist Dr. Rachel Medbery. “We are seeing more and more non-smokers get diagnosed with lung cancer, particularly middle-aged women. Inhaling pollution into our lungs can cause long-term damage, just as smoking tobacco can do. So whether it’s polluted air, second-hand smoke, occupational exposures, or vaping, we are all ultimately at risk.”
Prevention is the key. Improving air quality would go a long way in eliminating exposure to and inhaling these harmful particles that can trigger a cancerous reaction in the body. However, this is no small feat.
The World Health Organization has issued guidelines for countries to follow in attempts to decrease concentrations per cubic meter of air pollutants, but there are currently no countries that are actually achieving those lower limits. In the United States, constant efforts are being made and new research is being generated to curb air pollution through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Given that air quality is something that is generally out of an individual’s control, quitting smoking and getting screened are the next best things experts suggest doing to decrease your risk of lung cancer.
For people who may be more prone to developing lung cancer, including those who are ages 50 to 80-years-old and have a 20-pack-year smoking history, or who have a family history of lung cancer, regular annual screenings are recommended. The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography(also called a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT).
Dr. Medbery says that the more screenings and early detections that take place, along with continuing advancements in treatments and technology, the better hope there is to reduce future lung cancer mortalities.