By: Jean Johnson for Veins1
Part Two Part One
Lung Cancer Primer
There are two major types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell is much more common and usually spreads to different parts of the body more slowly than does small cell lung cancer.
|Take care to avoid second hand smoke, if possible
The World Health Organization reminds us that exposure to second-hand smoke has been proven to increase lung cancer risk. There is a 16 percent increased risk for non-smoking spouses of smokers and a 17 percent increased risk to non-smokers exposed to smoke in the workplace.
According to the American Lung Association, 3,000 people die each year from second-hand smoke.
Squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma are three types of non-small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer is also called oat cell cancer and according to the American Lung Association (ALA), accounts for 20 percent of all lung cancer.
The ALA says that smoking cigarettes, pipes, and cigars truly is the number one cause of lung cancer, thus making this a tragic disease that is often preventable with healthy lifestyle choices and cultural sanctions. There are, on the other hand, some types of lung cancer that are not associated with tobacco.
Helical Low-Dose CT Scans Offer Some Hope
According to the ALA, “a growing number of doctors are using a form of CT scan in smokers to spot small lung cancers, which are more likely than large tumors to be cured.”
“The technique, called helical low-dose CT scan, is much more sensitive that a regular X-ray and can detect tumors when they are small.”
That said, the ALA notes that more studies on the efficacy of helical low-dose CT scanning is needed to show if this approach can catch lung cancer early enough to save lives.
Lung Cancer Risk for Ex-Smokers
While it’s true that quitting smoking helps reduce lung cancer risk, the lungs of ex-heavy smokers may never regain their once healthy vitality. Don’t let that stop you – the American Cancer Society does say that: “it is never too late to quit. The sooner smokers quit, the more they can reduce their chances of getting cancer and other diseases. Within 20 minutes of smoking the last cigarette, the body begins to restore itself.”
Drawing on data from the US Surgeon General’s Report, years 1988 and 1990, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says that eight hours after a cigarette, carbon monoxide levels in the blood normalize and after 24 hours, chances of a heart attack decrease. Also, lung function increases 30 percent over the first three months, and after nine months untoward symptoms of smoking like coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath decrease.
More to the subject of lung cancer in former smokers, the ACS states that after 10 years, the death rate from the disease is about half that of a continuing smoker’s. The ACA adds the following caveat: “it’s important to note that the extent to which these risks decrease depends on how much the person smoked, the age the person started smoking, and the amount of inhalation.” Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has found slightly more optimistic results: “our research shows that among long-term smokers over the age of 50, risks of developing lung cancer can vary. However, the lung cancer risk of a person who has never smoked is typically much lower than the lowest percentages calculated by this tool.”
The tool to which Sloan-Kettering is referring assesses lung cancer risk in people between 50 and 75 years who smoked from 10 to 60 cigarettes a day for 25 to 55 years. It is useful in assessing risk for current smokers and former smokers who quit with the last 20 years. The tool was developed in collaboration with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, reported in a 2003 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and is available here.