Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death and is responsible for about 1 out of 4 cancer deaths for both men and wormen. Tragically, according to the American Cancer Society, “more people die from lung cancer than from colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.”
Causes of lung cancer
For decades it has been known that smoking is by far the leading cause of lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 222,500 new cases and 155,870 deaths in the United States alone in 2017. The overall best health decision a smoker can make is to quit smoking.
However, there are other factors, besides smoking, that can increase your risk for developing lung cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, certain other circumstances can cause lung cancer–even for individuals that never smoked: radon, excessive air pollution, family history of lung cancer, and exposure to asbestos.
The risks from asbestos exposure
Occupational exposure to asbestos, even without a history of cigarette use, can cause lung cancer. The length of time it takes from asbestos exposure to development of lung cancer, known as the latency period, can take 30 to 50 years.
If you smoked and you have been occupationally exposed to asbestos, the interaction between tobacco smoke and asbestos greatly increases your risk for developing lung cancer–far greater than if you smoked but were not exposed to asbestos.)
Occupations with potential asbestos exposure
Asbestos was a common material used in many industries throughout most of the 20th century. From the 1940s through the 1970s, asbestos was used in power plants, refineries, chemical plants, U.S. Navy ships as well as in commercial and residential construction. If you worked at one of these industrial facilities, served in the U.S. Navy, or were in the construction trades during the 1950s, 60s, or 70s, you may have experienced occupational exposure to asbestos.
What should you do if you think you are at risk?
Lung cancer symptoms can include a cough that persists over time, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, back pain that won’t go away, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss are symptoms that individuals suffering from lung cancer, as well as various other illnesses may experience.
If you or a family member smoked – or if you were exposed to asbestos through your occupation, it is critical for you to have regular check-ups with your doctor. Tell your doctor of your asbestos exposure as additional tests such as x-rays and/or CT scans may be recommended at various intervals.
The National Cancer Institute reports these scans can reduce lung cancer deaths by detecting the disease at an early stage. Sadly, an overwhelming percentage of lung cancer victims never discussed their potential risk for lung cancer with their physician before they were diagnosed with cancer. Early detection is critical to successful treatment of this potentially deadly disease.