Lung Cancer: What You Should Know
Cancer is when a group of cells change and grow out of control. These cells form a mass called a tumour and begin to affect surrounding tissues. When this happens in the lungs, windpipe or main airways it's called lung cancer. If a cancer has spread to the lungs from a different part of the body it's referred to as secondary lung cancer.
Around 41,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with lung cancer every year - it's the second most common type. Although it's usually older folk who are diagnosed - the average age is 70-74 - younger people can develop it too.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, so there's no better time to find out about this condition.
What are the symptoms?
Lung cancer can be asymptomatic until it is established. The symptoms will change between tumour size and location, so it's not always an easy spot.
Here are the things to look out for:
- Blood in phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing sounds
- Pain particularly on breathing
- Weight loss and other body changes
If lung cancer has spread to nearby tissue or lymph nodes, additional symptoms may be experienced:
- Pain and difficulty swallowing
- Stridor - a high pitched sound like a wheeze when breathing in
- Fluid in the lung and heart lining
What causes lung cancer?
In 90% of cases, the cause of lung cancer is cigarette smoke. There are 60 different types of toxin in cigarette smoke that lead to cancer.
All tobacco products can lead to cancer, but lung cancer, mouth, jaw, gum, any type of oral cancer is hugely influenced by cigarettes, cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco.
Asbestos and other chemicals used in the building trade have been linked to lung cancer.
3% of lung cancer cases are cause by radon poisoning. This is a uranium gas that seeps from soil and rocks in certain areas.
New studies show that those who are exposed to diesel fumes have a 50% increased risk of lung cancer. More research is needed to determine what level of exposure poses a risk.
Research is ongoing into cancer genes, but it's thought that if a close family member is diagnosed with lung cancer it raises the risk by 50%. There's a greater risk if a brother or sister has lung cancer than the parent.
How can you protect yourself?
The NHS states that if you smoke 25 a day you are 25 times more likely to get lung cancer, so the obvious advice is not to smoke. Giving up cigarettes means that after ten years the risk of lung cancer halves.
Passive smoking has a large affect on household members. Women living with smoking men are 25% more likely to develop lung cancer.
A good diet has been shown to reduce cancer risk. Eating a low-fat, high-fibre diet with at least five types of fruit and vegetables each day can help. It's thought the anti-oxidants prevent cell damage.
Exercising cuts the risk of all cancer types. The NHS recommends two and half hours of moderate activity a week to cut all health risks, including lung cancer.
Research into treatments for and risk factors for lung cancer is going on all the time, but it's clear that smoking is the biggest risk. If you need help quitting there are support groups and all kinds of help available for you. It'll be the best thing you've ever done for your health.