Lung Cancer Awareness Month is dedicated to educating the public about the prevalence of the disease in the United States, and providing resources on prevention, screening and treatment.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. It is the second most common cancer in both men and women (not counting skin cancer). For men, prostate cancer is the only cancer more common, while in women breast cancer is more common.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. The ACS reports 80% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking.1 However, non-smokers can also develop the disease. This could be caused by exposure to radon, secondhand smoke, air pollution, asbestos, diesel exhaust or other chemicals.
PREVENTION IS KEY
With such a high percentage of cases linked to smoking, lung cancer awareness efforts to reduce the prevalence of the disease are largely focused on kicking the tobacco habit.
“Smoking continues to be the #1 most preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S.,” says Kerri Thompson, Public Health Educator for the Knox County Health Department (KCHD) in Tennessee. “It kills so many people and it’s something that can be prevented.”
Thompson spearheads her county’s tobacco prevention programs, which focus on three main areas: Youth Prevention, Secondhand Smoke Reduction and Smoking Cessation (quitting). Through educational programs designed to teach children about the dangers of smoking, they hope to dramatically reduce tobacco product usage in our next generation.
“We’re trying to change the trajectory so, hopefully, we can have an impact on lung cancer,” Thompson notes. “Having (our youth) not use tobacco or not be addicted to nicotine in the first place is really key to addressing the huge impact that smoking has on society.”
These programs aimed at youth education actually have a trickle-down effect, impacting its Secondhand Smoke Reduction and Smoking Cessation efforts, as well. Children tend to share resources they receive in school with their parents in hopes they will then try to quit. One of these resources is the Tennessee Tobacco Quitline. This is a free service that offers personalized support from counselors who are trained to help you kick the habit. More resources to help you quit smoking can be found at Smokefree.gov.
When it comes to quitting, Thompson says relapse is common, so persistence is very important. “When someone quits smoking, on average it takes seven to 10 times for someone to quit for good. Many people think since they’ve been smoking for years, the damage is already done, so what’s the point in quitting.” However, if there’s one thing she hopes people take away from lung cancer awareness education and prevention efforts, it’s this – “It’s never too late to quit.”
LUNG CANCER SCREENING CAN SAVE LIVES
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), risk factors for lung cancer include tobacco use, secondhand smoke, family history, HIV infection and environmental risks like exposure to asbestos, radon or other substances. If you believe you may be at risk for lung cancer, you should start by speaking to your doctor. A general practitioner can perform an assessment, then offer advice for your next step. This could be a referral to a pulmonologist or oncologist, or a prescription for nicotine replacement therapy. Since early detection is so important, at-risk individuals may also benefit from a lung cancer screening.
The NCI says the most effective type of screening is a low-dose spiral Computed Tomography (CT) scan. In its National Lung Screening Trial, the NCI studied people between 55 and 74 years old who had smoked at least one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or more. They compared low-dose spiral CT scans with another type of screening, chest x-rays. Researchers observed a 20% lower risk of dying from lung cancer in people who received low-dose spiral CT scan screenings.2
Fortunately, there are lung cancer awareness resources available to help people get screened. The American Lung Association (ALA) offers an online quiz to help you determine whether you are at risk. The ALA can also help you find information about insurance coverage and screening facilities near you.
In an effort to make lung cancer screenings more accessible, CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn. brings low-dose CT scans into the community with its Breathe Easy mobile lung CT coach. The bus serves counties from three different states in the Southeast.
PROTON THERAPY AS A TREATMENT
Given the serious prognosis of lung cancer, it’s important to evaluate all your treatment options before making any decisions. Treatment for lung cancer is based mainly on the type (non-small cell vs. small cell) and the stage of the cancer. Other factors like a person’s health and lung function should also be considered. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Doctors and scientists have been studying the results of proton therapy in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). One study in particular showed that patients with Stage 3 NSCLC who were treated with proton therapy experienced lower rates of lung and esophagus inflammation compared to patients treated with traditional (x-ray/IMRT) radiation.3
Proton therapy for lung cancer treatment is non-invasive and usually painless. Physicians provide doses of radiation to specific areas, controlling the depth of the protons emitted and reducing the impact on the surrounding tissue. Proton centers developed by Provision use a technique known as pencil beam scanning, which provides precise dose of radiation to targeted areas, resulting in a decreased risk of side effects. Proton therapy decreases the risk of damage to healthy tissue and organs surrounding the cancer. This is because the unique physical properties of protons allow the radiation dose to better conform to your cancer, avoiding unnecessary radiation to nearby areas. This is especially important for lung cancer treatment because the tumor may be close to your heart, healthy lung and other critical organs.
Sources & Studies
- American Cancer Society. What Causes Lung Cancer? Read More
- National Cancer Institute. National Lung Screening Trial. Read More
- National Cancer Database Analysis of Proton Versus Photon Radiation Therapy in NSCLC. Read More
- American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Lung Cancer. Read More
- Proton Beam Radiotherapy and Concurrent Chemotherapy for Unresectable Stage III Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer Final Results of a Phase 2 Study. Read More
- High-dose hypofractionated proton beam radiation therapy is safe and effective for central and peripheral early-stage non-small cell lung cancer: results of a 12-year experience at Loma Linda University Medical Center. Fractionation 10 for PBT vs 6-8 weeks for IMRT. Read More