And How to Avoid It
After heart disease, lung cancer is the most common cause of death of American men, accounting for almost a third of all cancer deaths. Over 170,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease every year. It is very difficult to treat effectively, with only about 16% of diagnosed patients still alive after 5 years. Obviously, the best way to be free of this man-killer is to avoid getting it in the first place.
The Major Causes of Lung Cancer
- Smoking: More than 85% of lung cancers are caused by smoking.
- Passive Smoke Inhalation: Non-smokers who live with smokers have at least a 25% greater risk for the disease than non-smokers living in a smoke-free environment.
- Radon Gas: Exposure to radon gas is second only to smoking as the greatest cause of lung cancer. An estimated 12% of cases have been attributed at least partially to radon gas. The gas is emitted naturally from rocks under the ground, particularly from granite. It can seep into houses and reach particularly high levels in houses that are well sealed against temperature extremes. The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that approximately one out of every fifteen homes in the U.S. have dangerously high levels of radon gas.
- Asbestos and other inhaled carcinogens: The risk of lung cancer increases with exposure to asbestos and other inhaled carcinogens such as metal dust and fumes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, diesel exhaust and silica. Non-smoking asbestos workers have a 5 times greater risk of lung cancer than other non-smokers.
- Air Pollution: Up to 2,000 lung cancer deaths per year have been attributed to air pollution. People exposed to diesel fumes in the workplace over a number of years have almost a fifty percent increase in their lung cancer risk. Also, people exposed to nitrogen oxides from living or working in areas of high vehicular traffic have a one-third increase in risk for the disease. Ozone has also been cited as a risk factor.
How to Avoid Lung Cancer
- Do not start smoking and, if you already smoke, quit: If you quit smoking, your lungs will gradually recover. The younger you quit, the better. However, while most smokers are quite aware that smoking is bad for their health and the health of those around them, they find the habit very difficult to break. The most important thing is to decide you really want to quit. Then use one or more of the smoking-cessation methods proven most effective. If you absolutely cannot quit, at least try to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke, because that will reduce your risk somewhat.
- Avoid second-hand smoke: Fortunately, many states and cities have enacted smoking bans in restaurants, bars, and other indoor environments, making it easier to avoid second-hand smoke. Yet some of us are in the difficult situation of living with a smoker or having friends who smoke. Since most of us do not wish to abandon family or friends to avoid smoke, the best we can do is to encourage friends and family members to quit smoking for their own health and the health of those around them, or to at least avoid smoking around non-smokers. Many smokers either unwilling or unable to kick the habit protect others by going outdoors to smoke. But please avoid smoking right at building entrances, out of consideration for others.
- Avoid radon gas: All houses should be tested for the presence of radon gas, and measures should be taken to vent the gas from houses if its presence exceeds safe levels. Radon tests are generally available in hardware stores. They employ canisters that are placed in the lowest lived-in area of the home, generally the basement or ground floor. A short-term test is one in which a canister is left in place for 2-3 days to collect radon from the air. During the test, it is important to leave windows and doors closed and not use window fans or air conditioners that bring in outside air or exhaust inside air. The canister is then sent to a lab and the test results are returned by mail. If radon above the recommended level is detected, a longer-term test can be used for verification. In the event of undesirable radon levels, contact your state radon office for a list of approved radon abatement contractors. The method of removal most commonly used is to place vent pipes around the house foundation and suck the gas out with fans.
- Do not work with Asbestos or other inhaled carcinogens: It is best to avoid work that involves exposure to such substances or at least use approved safety equipment appropriately. If your house was built before the 1970’s, it is likely to contain asbestos in the form of heat or sound insulation or floor covering. However, the asbestos generally will not get into the air unless the material is worn down or cracked. Do not attempt any removal of suspect materials until you send a sample to an approved testing lab. In the event asbestos is found, it should only be removed by a qualified asbestos abatement contractor.
- Avoid air pollution: Try to find housing in lower pollution areas. If you prefer living in the city, try to live on smaller streets away from high traffic areas. Keep your automobile anti-pollution systems in good working order.
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