What is lung cancer? Well, lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States. Lung cancer has greater mortality rates than the next three most common cancers combined (colon, breast and prostate). An estimated 157,300 Americans were expected to die from lung cancer in 2010, accounting for approximately 28 percent of all cancer deaths (American Lung Association). Lung cancer is very difficult to treat, depending on the size and stage in which the cancer is detected. The earlier the cancer is discovered, the better. For example, if the cancer is found earlier than later, more types of treatment can be administered to the patient. These treatments may vary from surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Although lung cancer is rarely cured completely, if detected and treated early, survival expectancy can increase substantially. Despite the difficulties of this deadly disease, the number of cases in which people have lung cancer is unnecessary, and can be greatly lowered.
The risk of developing lung cancer can be reduced by 90% in people who quit smoking before the age of 35. Smoking is greatly related to lung cancer. Smoking, a main cause of small cell lung cancer, contributes to 80 percent and 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in women and men (American Lung Association). Men that smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer than men who don’t, and women who smoke are 13 times more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmoking women. The lung cancer types found in people who smoke mostly differ from those in non-smokers. Small cell lung cancers, which account for approximately 20 percent of lung cancers, occur almost always in people who smoke or have smoked in the past. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is a disease in which cancer cells are found in the tissues of the lungs. Inside the chest, lungs take up much of the room inside and usually are a pair of cone-shaped organs. The characteristic of this type of cancer is that it grows more rapidly and is more likely to spread to other organs inside your body.
Starting with any one of the larger breathing tubes, small cell lung cancer grows quickly and at the time of diagnosis attains larger size. Most common cause of lung cancer is cigarette smoking. Small cell lung cancer risk factors include smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes now or in the past, exposure to second hand smoke, and exposure to asbestos or radon. Non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) is the type found more commonly in non-smokers, but the majority of cases still occur in people who have smoked in his or her lifetime. There is one broad general cause to lung cancer that is the Constant prolonged introduction and exposure of a variety of carcinogens into the lungs. A carcinogen is any ingredient that has the potential to cause cancer. One deadly carcinogen is radon gas. Exposure to radon is estimated to be the second leading cause of lung cancer, responsible for an estimated 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths every year (American Lung Association).
Radon is a tasteless, colorless and odorless gas that is produced by decaying uranium and occurs naturally in soil and rocks. Lung cancer can also be caused by occupational exposures, including asbestos, uranium, and coke (an important fuel in the manufacture of iron in smelters, blast furnaces, and foundries). Amongst all of these factors that cause lung cancer, cigarette smoke, with its concoction of highly concentrated carcinogens, inhaled by both smokers and nonsmokers is the foremost cause of lung cancer. In addition to the causing of lung cancer, smoking puts a person in increased risk of the pancreas, kidney, bladder, esophagus, oral cavity, and larynx cancers. Since there is a great association between smoking and lung cancer, there is also an increased risk of developing other smoking related cancers. These types of cancers and lung cancer incidences depend initially on the overall lifetime exposure to cigarette smoke, the number of years a person has smoked cigarettes, and the age at which the individual was introduced into cigarette smoking. Now that we know the causes of lung cancer, let’s explore the contents of a cigarette.
What are the ingredients and chemicals that are manufactured into cigarettes, have you ever wondered? There are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes (American Lung Association). When these ingredients are burned, they create more than 4,000 chemicals. At least 50 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are very poisonous. A lot of these chemicals are also found in many consumer products, but these products have warning labels on them. While the public is warned and advised about the danger of the poisons in these products, there is no such warning for the toxins in cigarettes. Here are a few of the chemicals in tobacco smoke, and other places they are found in: Acetone – found in nail polish remover, Ammonia – a common household cleaner, Methanol – a main component in rocket fuel, Butane – used in lighter fluid, and Carbon Monoxide – released in car exhaust fumes.
That’s just a very short list of extremely dangerous chemicals that are incorporated into cigarette smoke. It’s no surprise that the constant inhalation of these hazardous substances over time can result in a variety of serious health problems such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and even chronic diseases. It is critical and essential to know how smoking causes lung cancer because there is a great relationship between smoking and lung cancer. Your lungs’ air passages are lined with millions of tiny hairs called cilia. The cilia act like little brooms protecting the air tubes by sweeping dusts, tar, and other foreign materials gradually upward, like escalators, until they can be spit out. Every time a blast of tobacco smoke hits these cilia, however, they slow down, and soon stop moving. As a result, the trapped tars from the tobacco smoke begin seeping into the cells lining the air tubes. Over time, this constant irritation turns some of the cells cancerous.
This transformation usually takes many years. But once it begins, the cancer steadily eats its way deeper into the lung. By the time it is discovered, it’s usually too late. When cigarette smoke is inhaled, the tissue cells of the lungs are exposed to the host of carcinogens contained in the smoke. Carcinogens have the unique potential to damage and change the DNA of cells in the body. The DNA is responsible for functions including how fast the cells reproduce and grow. Once a cell has been exposed to carcinogens for an extended period of time and the DNA has been affected, the cell can become cancerous. A cancerous cell is defined as any cell in the body who’s DNA has been reprogrammed to grow at an accelerated and unstoppable rate. As the affected cells continue to grow, they cause the formation of blood vessels to supply the cells with the needed nutrients to continue growing. These cells grow into masses called tumors.
Eventually these tumors grow to such a size that they begin to crowd out other cells in the lungs. The added mass of the tumor makes it difficult to breathe, which decreases the amount of oxygen being transported throughout the body. Eventually the tumor can become so large that the lungs can no longer function. If a small amount of the tumor manages to break off and enter the bloodstream, or lymph system, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. Here the process continues as the cells make new homes in organ tissues, such as the heart, liver or brain. This eventually causes these organs to no longer function over time as well. If you think you’re safe just because you are not a smoker, think again, because you’re wrong. Passive smoking, or also known as second hand smoke can also be a risk factor for lung cancer. Breathing in the smoke of others can increase your risk of developing lung cancer. A non-smoker who lives with a smoker has about a 20 percent to 30 percent greater risk of developing lung cancer. Workers who have been exposed to tobacco smoke in the workplace are also more likely to get lung cancer.
Secondhand smoke involuntarily inhaled by nonsmokers from other people’s cigarettes is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a known human carcinogen, responsible for approximately 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart disease deaths in adult nonsmokers annually in the United States (American Lung Association). Smoking by parents is associated with a wide range of adverse effects in their children as well, including exacerbation of asthma attacks, increased frequency of colds and ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome. Secondhand smoke causes an estimated 202,000 asthma episodes, 790,000 physician visits for buildup of fluid in the middle ear (or middle ear infection), and 430 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) cases each year. Nicotine is a very addictive drug, and when it’s inhaled, cigarette smoke reaches the brain faster than drugs that enter the body intravenously.
Smokers not only become physically addicted to nicotine; they also connect smoking with many social activities, making smoking an even more difficult habit to break. Quitting smoking often requires multiple attempts. Using counseling or medication alone increases the chance of a quit attempt being successful; the combination of both is even more effective. Perhaps the best motivation for an individual to quit smoking would be the thought of the serious health complications down the road if smoking is continued. If you stop smoking before a cancer develops, your damaged lung tissue gradually starts to repair itself. No matter what your age or how long you’ve smoked, quitting may lower your risk of lung cancer and help you live longer.
There are some people that will try to tell you that the medical establishment is lying to you. They will argue that it’s not proven that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, that the statistics have been twisted to make the case against cigarette smoking stronger and worse than it actually is. There are a number of things that doctors and researchers don’t yet understand, such as there is no development of lung cancer in those people that can smoke for years, while others who have never smoked do. There is one thing to keep in mind, risk of developing lung cancer increases due to smoking- this isn’t a claim, it’s a fact. Remember, it’s never too late to put down that cancer stick!