Healthy Geezer: The Truth About Lung Cancer

lung cancer

By Fred Cicetti 

Q. Is cigarette smoke the only cause of lung cancer? 

No. Radon and asbestos are causes, too. Radon is an invisible, odorless, and radioactive gas that occurs naturally in soil and rocks. Asbestos has been used for fireproofing, electrical insulation, building materials, brake linings, and chemical filters.  

But cigarette smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, and lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Before cigarette smoking became popular in the early part of the 20th century, doctors rarely saw patients with lung cancer. Nearly 90% of people with lung cancer develop it because they smoked cigarettes. 

The good news is that smoking is not as popular as it used to be. In 1965, about 42% of all adults smoked. By 2021, only 11.5% of adults aged 18 years or older smoked cigarettes. Also, there has been a sharp drop in lung cancer deaths among men, mainly because fewer men are smoking. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. It occurs most often between the ages of 55 and 65.  

Common symptoms of lung cancer include a persistent cough that worsens, constant chest pain, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness, repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis, swelling of the neck and face, loss of appetite or weight loss, and fatigue. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to check with a doctor immediately. If tests show that you have cancer, you should make treatment decisions as soon as possible. Studies show that early treatment leads to better outcomes.

Related: Healthy Geezer: The Simple Facts About Angina

The standard treatments for lung cancer are surgery to remove a tumor, chemotherapy with anti-cancer drugs, radiation to kill cancer cells, and photodynamic therapy, a newer technique that uses a laser with a chemical to kill cancer cells.  

There are two major types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Each type of lung cancer grows and spreads in different ways, and each is treated differently. 

Non-small cell lung cancer is more common, and there are several treatments including surgery. Cryosurgery, a treatment that freezes and destroys cancer tissue, may be used to control symptoms in the later stages of non-small cell lung cancer. Doctors may also use radiation therapy and chemotherapy to slow the progress of the disease and to manage symptoms. 

Small cell lung cancer grows more quickly and is more likely to spread to other organs in the body. In many cases, cancer cells have already spread to other parts of the body when the disease is diagnosed. To reach cancer cells throughout the body, doctors almost always use chemotherapy. Other tools include radiation therapy aimed at the tumors. Surgery may also help a small number of patients with small cell lung cancer. 

Some patients with small cell lung cancer have radiation therapy to the brain even though no cancer is found there. This treatment is given to prevent tumors from forming in the brain. Targeted drug therapy blocks abnormalities in cancer cells and can kill these cells. 

Immunotherapy uses your own immune system to fight cancer. Your body’s immune system may not attack the cancer because the cancer cells produce proteins that help them hide from the immune system cells. Immunotherapy works by interfering with that process. 

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