Kelly Brassil, PhD, RN
Director of Medical Affairs
Time to Read: 7 mins
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States. It accounts for over 200,000 new cases annually and is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. In honor of World Lung Cancer Day I’ve tackled some truths and misconceptions about lung cancer risk and occurrence, as well as tips to support at-risk individuals.
Lung cancer only occurs in individuals with a history of smoking.
FALSE: While lung cancer is most common among individuals who smoke, approximately 10-15% of lung cancer cases occur in individuals who have never smoked. At-risk individuals include those who may have been exposed to second-hand smoke or other environmental factors and those who have a family history of lung cancer.
Vaping protects me from all the risks associated with cigarette smoking
FALSE: While e-cigarettes contain fewer burn chemicals than traditional cigarettes, they do contain nicotine and other chemicals that could contribute to cancer occurrence. On-going studies are exploring the risk between e-cigarette use and cancer. A recent study linked e-cigarettes with an increased risk of stroke.
Lung cancer occurrence is linked to the social determinants of health.
TRUE: While the gaps are shrinking, lung cancer incidence is disproportionately higher among non-Hispanic black individuals. Of this population, men and individuals residing in rural areas have the highest incidence rate.
The first sign of lung cancer is a cough that won’t go away.
TRUE: Don’t ignore a cough that persists or worsens. This is one of the most common symptoms of lung cancer. Additional symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain that is worsened with coughing or deep breathing, and feeling tired or weak. Being evaluated as soon symptoms are present is important in identifying cancer as early as possible. Many individuals with lung cancer may have no symptoms until it has advanced to other parts of the body.
What can I do?
If you are at risk for lung cancer, there are steps you can take to protect yourself or lessen risk for later-stage diagnosis:
Talk with your health care provider about screening and report any symptoms. Be honest with your primary care provider about your medical and family history. Knowing this information can help your provider to determine eligibility for a lung cancer screening. Be sure to report anything that doesn’t seem right to your provider, especially a persistent or worsening cough, shortness of breath, or blood when you cough.
Complete screening at recommended intervals. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network Guidelines for Lung Cancer Screening recommends low dose computed tomography (CT) scans annually for individuals considered high risk.
Adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors that reduce risk. Quitting smoking is the primary way to reduce cancer risk. Within minutes of quitting the body begins to recover. Ten years after quitting the risk of lung cancer-related death is half that of a current smoker. Also, eat healthy, nutritious meals and engage in regular exercise. Lastly, avoid second-hand smoke and encourage friends and family members to quit smoking.
If you know someone who has been diagnosed with lung cancer:
Be there without judgment. Individuals may feel guilt about a cancer diagnosis if they smoked. They may feel stigmatized by the perception of others about their diagnosis. Provide support without judgment of what may have contributed to the cancer occurrence.
Support healthy lifestyle behaviors. Support your loved one through their cancer experience, particularly if they are trying to quit smoking. The stress of a cancer diagnosis may make it more difficult to quit, however, quitting smoking after diagnosis is associated with overall survival rates and improved quality of life.
If you have lung cancer:
Know you are not alone. There are resources and communities available to support you through your cancer experience. Pack Health provides a Symptom Management member track to provide support for those who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Don’t allow stigma to prevent you from seeking the care you need. No matter the contributing factors, every individual deserves safe, effective, and timely care. Don’t let stigma prevent you from seeking care early. Early detection could save your life.
For more information on Pack Health’s Cancer Symptom Management member journey, check out our program overview.