This “C” word is neither charming nor cute. Cancer only brings tears and sadness to people and their loved ones. One of the most common cancers occurs in the lungs. It claims more American lives than the next three most-common cancers combined, and it doesn’t seem likely that it is going to be less common anytime soon.
Unfortunately, lung cancer remains the No. 1 cancer killer for Kentuckians. People in Kentucky also are more likely to have it diagnosed at a later stage, increasing the suffering and pain caused by it.
It is no coincidence that Kentucky is one of the top states for smoking rates and lung cancer. In fact, tobacco smoke is the No. 1 reason people develop lung cancer. The more you smoke, and the more years you smoke, the greater your chance of developing lung cancer.
It is also notable that there are other risk factors, and lung cancer can occur even if someone has never smoked. Genetics play a role. Other causes include environmental factors, such as exposure to asbestos or radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas.
Central Kentucky has high levels of radon. It may be a good idea to get radon levels checked at home. Many free resources are available to check for radon. The levels can be brought down by pumping it out of your house, but it can be expensive to have the mitigation system installed.
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of lung cancers: small cell and non-small cell. Treatment decisions are based on the type of cancer and the stage of cancer. The stage is determined by the size of the tumor, involvement of lymph nodes (small bumps in the body that act as filters, mostly for infections) and if the tumor has spread beyond the lungs and lymph nodes.
Since those who smoke have a high risk factor of developing lung cancer, and because symptoms usually develop only at a later stage of the disease, it is now recommended that people who smoke heavily and are older than 55 should be screened for lung cancer.
If you smoke and are concerned about the possibility of lung cancer, discuss a lung cancer screening with your health-care provider. And remember, quitting smoking will bring your risk down considerably.
Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, a pulmonologist with Baptist Health Medical Group Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine in Richmond, practices at Baptist Health Richmond.