According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States, surpassing colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. In 2020 alone, it is estimated that there will be 228,820 new cases of lung cancer and approximately 135,720 deaths from the disease. Despite these sobering statistics, the vast majority (though not all) of lung cancer cases could be prevented through one particular lifestyle choice—smoking avoidance. Though there are other risk factors for lung cancer, approximately 90 percent of all diagnosed cases are associated with tobacco smoking, including secondhand exposure to smoke.
Nurse practitioner Cindy Sutton of The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers puts the risk in perspective: “For current smokers, the risk of developing lung cancer is about 20 times higher than the risk for those who have never smoked. When smokers quit the habit, their lung cancer risk decreases significantly but they never quite reach the same low level of those who have never smoked.” She adds that all forms of smoking, not just cigarettes, increase the risk of lung cancer. This includes smoking cannabis.
The use of e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” may also be a risk factor for lung cancer. The liquids used in these products have been found to contain a wide range of chemicals and substances known to be carcinogenic. In fact, studies have found that mice exposed to e-cigarette vapor for prolonged periods can develop lung cancer. However, according to Sutton, research on the effects of vaping in humans is more complicated because many people who vape have a prior history of cigarette smoking, making it more difficult to determine cause and effect.
Examples of non-smoking-related lung cancer risk factors include occupational or environmental exposure to toxins/materials such as asbestos, radon, or heavy metals, as well as having a family history of lung cancer. Sutton advises, “The best defense against occupational exposures is to use any protective equipment recommended for that environment, such as a respirator or filtration system. Unfortunately, many workers don’t take the necessary steps to protect themselves.” Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that leaks into buildings from the ground. To avoid exposure, Sutton recommends placing a radon detector on every occupied floor of the home or building.
Adopting certain healthy habits can also offer some protection against lung cancer. For example, incorporating plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables into one’s diet can reduce risk. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage, seem to be especially beneficial in this regard. “We’ve also found that people who routinely see their physician and promptly report any unusual symptoms are more likely to get testing that detects lung cancer in the earliest stage when it’s most treatable,” Sutton says.
The most impactful step anyone can take to prevent lung cancer is to avoid smoking. For those who have already taken up the habit, Sutton advises, “Do anything you have to do to stop smoking. It’s an extremely powerful habit, as anyone who has tried to quit can tell you, but there are programs that can help. It’s also important to seek medical attention immediately if you experience symptoms such as a persistent cough, unexplained hoarseness, difficulty breathing, or spitting or coughing up blood, which is a cardinal sign of lung cancer. Anything unusual needs to be evaluated medically, and the earlier the better.”
The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers, located at 4126 N. Holland Sylvania Road, Suite 105, also provides imaging, laboratory, chemotherapy and IV services. The cancer center consists of 8 medical and 2 radiation oncologists along with 8 nurse practitioners and 4 research nurses. The cancer center also has satellite centers in Maumee, Napoleon, Bowling Green, Wauseon, and Monroe.
The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers has earned Patient-Centered Specialty Practice level 3 recognition and Oncology Medical Home recognition from the National Committee for Quality Assurance. Oncology homes align systems and resources with coordinated care focused on cancer patients and their needs. This reduces fragmentation, supports shared decision making, and improves the patient experience. They are the first oncology practice in the state of Michigan and the second oncology practice in the state of Ohio to receive this recognition.
For more information, please call The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers at 419-479-5605.