Throughout the month of November, we will be sharing a series of posts to create awareness for lung cancer. Today we want to discuss what some of the common causes are and who exactly is at risk of developing lung cancer.
What Causes Lung Cancer?
When a patient is diagnosed with lung cancer, the first thing their doctor will ask is if they are, or ever were, a smoker. Tobacco smoke, whether it is firsthand, secondhand, or even third hand, causes approximately 80%-90% of lung cancer deaths in the general population, according to the American Cancer Society. The science behind this causation is undeniable, and unfortunately, the tobacco industry hid the health risks of their products from the public for decades.
Asbestos is another major cause of lung cancer, and in fact is the number one cause of occupational-related cancer. This naturally-occurring, fibrous mineral was once used in many consumer products due to its heat-resistant abilities. However, when the fibers of this dangerous mineral are inhaled or ingested it can result in lung cancer, mesothelioma, other cancers, or other asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis. Asbestos exposures most often happen in the workplace to those who have high-risk occupations, but similar to tobacco smoke, secondhand asbestos exposure also increases the risk of asbestos-related diseases like lung cancer.
It is important to note that while exposure to tobacco smoke and asbestos can cause lung cancer independently, if the two are combined, the risk of developing lung cancer increases exponentially with what is known as synergy.
If an individual is diagnosed with lung cancer and was not exposed to tobacco smoke or asbestos, other toxic substances could also have caused the disease, including radon, diesel exhaust, and other chemicals.
Who Is At Risk of Developing Lung Cancer?
The truth is that anyone with lungs is at risk of developing lung cancer. However, based on the information we have regarding causation, it is more common in individuals exposed to heavy amounts of asbestos and/or tobacco smoke. In fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends regular lung cancer screenings for individuals who:
- Have a history of heavy smoking, and
- Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
- Are between 55 and 80 years old, and/or
- Were exposed to asbestos in the workplace
Individuals who fit this description and/or have been exposed to asbestos should monitor themselves for lung cancer symptoms, such as chest pain, persistent coughing, shortness of breath or other respiratory issues.
Men Are More Likely to Be Diagnosed Than Women
Statistically speaking, men are more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than women, which can be attributed to two factors. First, more men are smokers than women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 17 out of every 100 American men smoke, while only 13 out of 100 women smoke. Second, men are more likely to have worked in environments where they were exposed to asbestos or other toxic substances known to cause lung cancer. However, both genders are equally susceptible to any and all exposures and should approach the possibility of such with caution.