Lung cancer is caused when cells in the lungs mutate and divide and grow uncontrollably. Lung cancer can happen to anyone, but studies conducted by medical associations worldwide have proven that smokers are 20 times more likely to get affected by lung cancer than non-smokers. Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer after breast cancer. Every year over 1.5 lakh people are deceased because of this condition.
Passive smoking means inhaling second hand smoke because of living with someone who smokes. Passive smokers are also at increased risk of lung cancer. If you are around a person who smokes or lives with a person who smokes, you are likely to get affected by lung cancer as passive smoke too contains the chemicals and carcinogens that cause the cells to mutate.
What are the causes of lung cancer?
Lung cancer can be caused by various reasons. However, studies indicate that people who smoke tobacco and marijuana are more likely to present the symptoms of this condition.
The most prominent reasons are:
There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Smoking tobacco contributes significantly to increased risk of lung cancer. The chances of cancerous cell formation are directly proportional to the number of cigarettes you smoke per day and also depends on the duration or number of years for which you smoke. Even pipe and cigar smoking are injurious for health. Even E- cigarettes are not supposed to be safe. It is always advised to quit smoking at the earliest.
Consuming second-hand smoke
The smoke released from burning tobacco contains close to seven thousand chemical compounds out of which sixty-nine are cancer stimulants. The two primary carcinogens in tobacco smoke are nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The presence of nicotine in tobacco smoke makes it addicting. Being a passive smoker or residing close to a smoker puts you 15- 24% at the risk of developing symptoms of lung cancer.
Radon is a naturally occurring element and one breathes very minute quantities of radon every day. Radon is released into the atmosphere when Uranium in rock, soil, and water breakdowns. Being exposed to large volumes of Radon gas for prolonged durations can put you at risk. If you are inhaling high levels of radon gas and are also a smoker, then risk of lung cancer further increases.
Asbestos and Carcinogens
Being exposed to carcinogens like Asbestos, Chromium, and nickel can put you at risk. People working with cement and building materials are more prone to lung cancer from these elements and the chances of developing cancerous cells further multiply if you are a smoker.
People with a family history are also likely to develop this condition more often than those without a family history.
Presence of Lung disease
The presence of certain diseases of the lung, notably chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is associated with a slightly increased risk (four to six times the risk of a non-smoker) for the development of lung cancer.
Prior history of lung cancer
The people who have already been treated for non-small cell or small cell lung cancer are at increased risk of developing a second lung cancer.
Prolonged exposure to polluted air also increases the risk of lung cancer.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
According to the type and stage at which lung cancer is detected, the symptoms may vary. The most common symptoms are:
1. Persistent cough
2. Blood in spit or phlegm
3. Chest pain
4. Breathlessness on routine work or climbing stairs, repeated episodes of pneumonia
5. Hoarseness of voice
5. Feeling tired easily
6. Losing weight without any reason
7. Not feeling like eating food
8. Bony pains- if disease spreads to bones
9. Headache, numbness, seizures, problems in balance, weakness in an arm or leg- these symptoms may happen if disease has spread to brain.
10. Jaundice or yellow colour of skin may develop in case cancer travels to liver
A patient may present with a single or a combination of symptoms. As these are non-specific symptoms so the cancer diagnosis may be missed and patient may be treated for tuberculosis or other ailments before being diagnosed with lung cancer. So a high index of suspicion is a must specifically in smokers. It is recommended to consult a doctor to seek medications that could help ease the above symptoms and to diagnose the cancer in early stage.
How can you prevent Lung cancer?
- For those who haven’t started smoking, please don’t pick up the habit. Smoking alone causes cancer of 16 sites in body as throat, mouth, tongue, lung, testicular ,prostate, and thyroid cancers to name a few. Also the patients who continue to smoke after being diagnosed with cancer have increased chances of cancer coming back after being treated. Young kids must be introduced to the side effects of smoking so that they do not succumb to this habit under ignorance or peer pressure.
- If you are a smoker, it is never too late to quit smoking. Remember, no level of smoking is safe. Consult a doctor to consider options that help control the craving. The chances of getting infected by lung cancer go down as one stops smoking and rids the body of harmful toxins that it has accumulated over the years. The risk of developing lung cancer begins to approach that of a non-smoker about 15 years after cessation of smoking but the benefits of quitting smoking, start immediately after kicking the habit.
- Avoid getting exposed to Radon, Asbestos, Chromium, and Nickel. If your nature of work demands you to operate in their presence, consult a doctor to talk about the preventive measures you can take to reduce the exposure. These measures could be in the form of drugs to suppress the reactions or physical equipment that could protect you from said exposure.
- Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and maintaining a healthy diet helps in keeping the formation of cancerous cells in the lungs at bay. Exercising regularly also helps. If you do not exercise regularly, start slow and slowly come to a place where you are exercising at least 4 out of 7 days a week.