Lung cancer does not wait for election results or pandemics. As a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program®, I am highlighting November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month and encourage you to read and share this vital information about this deadly disease with your loved ones.
Lung cancer is the third most-commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. More Americans die of lung cancer each year than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. An estimated 228,820 Americans will be diagnosed and 135,720 are expected to die of the disease this year. In Maryland alone, an estimated 3,930 will be diagnosed and 2,310 will die of lung cancer. The good news is the death rate has been declining since the 1990s as smoking rates have dropped.
Still, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of lung cancer, and 80-90% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking. Other types of tobacco use, including pipe and cigar smoking, can also cause lung cancer. Quitting is not easy, but the sooner you do, the more you reduce your risk. You also protect those close to you from secondhand smoke, which can also cause lung cancer.
Lung cancer does not just affect those who smoke. In fact, about 20% of Americans who die of lung cancer have never smoked or used tobacco products. Exposure to radon, a naturally occurring gas that can be found in houses and other buildings, also increases your risk. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends getting a radon test kit to check the radon level in your home—if levels are found to be high, you should contact a qualified radon mitigation contractor. Other risk factors include exposure to carcinogenic substances, such as asbestos, arsenic and diesel exhaust (found at some workplaces), a personal or family history of lung cancer, and radiation therapy to the chest.
Annual screening with low-dose spiral CT (LDCT) scanning is recommended for people ages 55-80 who have a history of heavy smoking, currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. Unfortunately, according to a February 2020 report published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC)’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, seven of eight adults who met screening criteria had not been screened—and we know that screening rates have plummeted even further amidst the pandemic. LDCT screening can reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer by at least 20% in people who meet the screening criteria. If you or a loved one currently smoke(s) or smoked regularly in the past, talk to a health care provider about screening.
In many cases, lung cancer is preventable. Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products−quit if you do for your health and the health of others. Test your home for radon, and if you work at a site where you are exposed to carcinogens, be sure you are properly protected. To learn more, visit www.preventcancer.org/lungcancer.
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.