Lung cancer—it’s a major threat to tobacco smokers and those with genetic predispositions. As with any deadly disease, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding lung cancer, some of which may prevent people from taking action. Because survival rates for lung cancer are low, particularly if it is diagnosed late, it’s very important to get the facts about this disease. We’ve put together 7 you may not have heard of before.
1. Lung cancer is a major killer worldwide
Many people aren’t aware that lung cancer is actually quite common. In fact, according to the American Lung Association, if you exclude non-melanoma skin cancer, lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide. In 2012, there were 1.8 million new cases worldwide and 1.6 million deaths. Lung cancer kills more men and women each year than breast, prostate, and colon cancer combined.
2. Ceasing tobacco use can help, no matter how long you’ve been smoking
Some longtime smokers often feel that quitting is futile when it comes to reducing their chances for lung cancer since they’ve been using tobacco for so long. This isn’t the case! Though an overwhelming number of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking tobacco, quitting at any point can reduce the chances of developing the disease. Within 5 years of quitting, the chance of getting several other smoking-related cancers drops by half, and 10 years after quitting, so does the risk for lung cancer. It’s never too late!
3. Annual screening is now recommended for some people
You may not know that annual screening for lung cancer is now recommended for some people. According to the CDC, “the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening with LDCT for people who
Heavy smoking means a smoking history of 30-pack years or more. A pack year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 30-pack year history by smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.”
4. Early detection is associated with increased survival
It’s true that lung cancer kills and it can be a difficult cancer to manage as well. The 5-year survival rate is just 16.8%, compared to 98.9% for prostate cancer. That grim statistic doesn’t mean that people don’t survive lung cancer, especially if it’s caught early. For example, the 5-year survival rate for people with early stage (1A) non-small cell cancer is ~49%.
5. New treatments are available for some types of lung cancer
Impacting-all-cancers/lung-cancer” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>new immunotherapies are now available for people with certain types of lung cancer. These include drugs that target epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). A new category of immunotherapy drugs, called checkpoint inhibitors, block proteins that cancer cells use to shield them from the immune response. Other drugs in development are monoclonal antibodies that target various growth factors, therapeutic vaccines that target tumor-specific antibodies, and adoptive cell therapies that enhance a person’s T cell immune to cancer cells. The Cancer Research Institute’s Clinical Trial Finder can help you find clinical trials of immunotherapies for lung cancer that are currently enrolling patients.
6. Secondhand smoke and e-cigarettes can harm the lungs
Many smokers have been warned about the health risks their habit poses to family members, but they may not know just how dangerous smoking is to people living in the same space. Small cell lung cancer is the most aggressive type of lung cancer, and nearly all cases are caused by smoking. Secondhand smoke can damage the cells and result in cancer, particularly in people more susceptible to developing cancer. E-cigarettes contain carcinogens like formaldehyde and other chemicals. While it’s still unclear how much impact e-cigarettes can have on the development of lung cancer, or the harm of breathing secondhand emissions and vapor, these carcinogens can be very harmful to the lungs.
7. The lung cancer rate is beginning to drop
We are making progress—more people are becoming aware of the risk factors for lung cancer, and the rate is beginning to drop in both men and women in the United States. Anti-tobacco campaigns have helped to reduce adult smoking rates, the leading cause of lung cancer (80% of cases). Initiatives, such as taxes that greatly increase the price of tobacco products and smoke-free zones have played key roles in the widespread reduction in smoking cessation and rates of smoking-related lung cancer.
Beating lung cancer
Awareness plays a huge role in reducing the diagnosis and mortality rates for lung cancer, by promoting screenings and encouraging people to quit smoking. November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s a great time to spread the message that there is hope for beating lung cancer, even for longtime smokers. We’re seeing huge drops in smoking among adults in the United States—a full 2% in one year to 15% of adults in 2015. For comparison, that level was 42% of American adults 50 years ago! These encouraging drops will likely continue due to ongoing smoke-free campaigns, reducing overall deaths from lung cancer as time goes on.