by Mona Jhaveri - October 21, 2021

So far, in the year 2021, there were over 235,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer deaths totaled more than 131,000 during the same period. It continues to be one of the leading causes of cancer death in both sexes, not only in North America but worldwide.

Lung cancer is a severe disease, and there are steps that people can take to lower the risk of getting it in the first place or catch it early on when treatment is more likely to be effective.

This blog post will define lung cancer as a disease, the latest statistics, and the most significant risk factors.

Lung Cancer, A Definition

Lung cancer begins in the lung cells and causes abnormal cell growth, which can spread to other parts of the body if not detected early on.

There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

SCLC accounts for about 10-15 percent of the total cases. It spreads faster than NSCLC and is usually detected at late stages of the disease. Treatment options include chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

NSCLC accounts for the majority of lung cancer cases at about 80-85 percent. NSCLC is further divided into three categories: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. Lung cancers are often named after the type of cells in which they begin their growth.

  • Lung adenocarcinoma is the leading type of lung cancer and begins in mucus-producing cells.
  • Squamous cell carcinomas develop from flat, thin, and pale epithelial cells that line tissues such as those found inside the mouth or nose.
  • Lung cancer with extensive cell features often has a worse prognosis. It can appear in any part of the lung, and is more aggressive, and proliferates.

Statistics and Trends

Not counting skin cancer, lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women. The only cancer type more common in men is prostate cancer, while in women, that is breast cancer. However, mortality numbers for lung cancer are the highest of all cancers – every year, more people die of lung cancer than of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined.

Lung cancers are not very common among children but become more prevalent as people age. They tend to affect older adults; the average age at diagnosis is 70.

Overall, the number of new lung cancer cases and lung cancer deaths is continually declining. The primary reasons for this are increased awareness of lung cancer and its risk factors, improved early detection methods (such as CT scans), and the availability of better treatment options. Patients with lung cancers found at an earlier stage have a higher chance of a greater than 5-year survival. 

However, there is still room for improvement in this area: while overall rates of lung cancer have decreased among both men and women since the 1990s, lung cancer rates in men declined faster than they did for women. Women are more susceptible to the negative effects of tobacco because of various genetic, hormonal, and metabolic factors. At the same time, the smoking patterns of men and women are different – women tend to begin smoking at a younger age compared to men. 

The American Cancer Society predicts that these rates will continue to decline in both sexes in the future due to more people stopping smoking and early detection and treatment advances.

Risk Factors

A risk factor for lung cancer represents anything that increases a person’s chances of developing lung cancer. There are many risk factors for the disease, and some people may be at greater risk than others.

Factors You Can Change

  • Smoking tobacco

Out of all the risk factors for lung cancer, cigarette smoking is the most important. Approximately 80 percent of lung cancers are caused by tobacco smoke.

Long-term exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase a person’s risk of developing lung cancer. Non-smokers who live with smokers have an increased risk of cancer as well.

If you smoke, quitting tobacco consumption can significantly reduce your risk of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases, such as respiratory problems like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  • Radon exposure

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, water, and building materials. It can seep into homes through cracks or holes in foundations or basements.

When radon is inhaled over a long time, it is carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Lung cancer risk increases with exposure to high radon levels, and it can be present in homes without the homeowners even knowing about it.

  • Asbestos exposure

Occupational asbestos exposure may lead to lung cancer caused by the material, and so can living in buildings with old insulation. Smoking in combination with working or living in asbestos-laden environments can increase the risk even more.

  • Exposure to other cancer-inducing agents

Radioactive ores (uranium), chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, silica, beryllium, coal products, chromium compounds, nickel compounds, and diesel exhaust are all known lung carcinogens.

People who work in certain jobs or live near factories that use the above-mentioned chemicals may be at risk for such exposures, and it is crucial to take the necessary precautions if you are concerned about this possibility.

Factors You Cannot Change

  • Lung radiation therapy

If you’ve previously been treated with radiation for other forms of cancer in the chest area (such as breast cancer), you have a higher chance of developing lung cancer.

  • Air pollution

Even though the risk of developing lung cancer from outdoor air pollution is significantly lower than developing lung cancer from smoking, pollution still poses a danger to lung health.

Living in areas with high levels of air pollution (such as smog or car exhaust) may lead to chronic lung diseases like asthma and COPD, making it easier for carcinogens such as those above to infiltrate the lungs and cause damage over time. These pollutants also increase your risk of developing other forms of cancer.

  • Personal or family history of lung cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, genetics seems to play a vital role in lung cancer in families with a strong history of this disease.

If you’ve already had lung cancer, you have a higher chance of developing it again.

If any close relatives (such as parents or siblings) have had lung cancer, your risk is even greater – but this does not mean that everyone who has a family history of lung cancer will get the disease.

Potential Risk Factors

  • Smoking marijuana

While it is still unclear whether cannabis smoking can lead to lung cancer, some studies have shown that smoking cannabis increases the risk of developing bronchitis and respiratory problems.

This could potentially increase your chances of developing lung cancer over time if you smoke regularly (more than once a week).

  • E-cigarettes

Even though the FDA classifies e-cigarettes as “tobacco” products, they don’t yet have enough data to confirm whether or not the risks of lung cancer are similar between vaping and smoking cigarettes.

However, it would be wise for e-cigarette users to consider both short-term effects (like throat irritation) and potential long-term ones, such as developing lung cancer over time from inhaling chemicals in the vapor.

Conclusion

Lung cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer, and it is a leading cause of death around the world. While smoking remains one of the most significant risk factors for developing lung cancer, other factors can make you more susceptible to this disease as well – such as exposure to radon gas or asbestos.

In addition, both genetics and air pollution have been shown to play a role in developing lung cancer. Lung cancer statistics show that over 235,000 new lung cancers were diagnosed in the United States this year alone – and most forms of this disease are extremely difficult to treat once they’ve progressed past early stages.

Efforts need to be taken on both an individual level (such as quitting smoking or reducing exposure to harmful substances) and a public policy level (by regulating air quality control in cities across America) to help reduce rates of lung cancer.

You can also become an active participant in our fight against cancer. Consider donating to one or more of our active campaigns today.

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