Lung Cancer Isn’t Just a Smoker’s Disease

Lung cancer is commonly misunderstood as a disease that only strikes habitual smokers.

Smoking is in fact the leading cause of lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, at least 70 of which are known to cause cancer. People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely than nonsmokers to get lung cancer or die from the disease.

But nonsmokers, though at a lower risk for lung cancer, aren’t invulnerable to the second most common cancer in men and women (excluding skin cancer). In addition to secondhand smoke, which the CDC says is the cause of about 7,300 lung cancer deaths in the United States every year, family history and environmental hazards are among the leading risk factors for lung cancer in people with no history of tobacco use.

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from rocks and soil, is the second leading cause of lung cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that radon causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, and that nearly 3,000 of those deaths are of people who never smoked. What makes radon such a lethal pollutant is that it doesn’t have a discernible presence; it is an invisible, tasteless, odorless gas that pervades dwellings and buildings through cracks in walls, foundations, basement floors, and other openings. Radon can get trapped in structures and build up to dangerous levels over time. One out of every 15 homes in the United States has high radon levels.

Everyone should have their homes tested for radon. Although no safe level of exposure to radon has been established, the EPA recommends taking action to reduce levels that exceed 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). Radon testing is simple and can be done with an inexpensive do-it-yourself kit. There are short-term detection kits that are kept in homes for up to a week to collect samples for lab analysis. Long-term tests are more accurate, but take at least three months to complete. Most test kits include the cost of lab analysis and an addressed envelope for submission, and results are provided in a matter of weeks, says the American Lung Association. You can also have a certified professional test your home for radon. High levels can be mitigated by making air flow changes, sealing cracks in floors and walls, or installing a radon ventilation system.lungcancer

There are other pollutants that can increase the risk for lung cancer, including chemicals you may be breathing in at work on a daily basis. People are most familiar with asbestos, which in addition to lung cancer poses risk for mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer that affects the thin linings of the lung, chest, abdomen and heart) and asbestosis (a chronic disease of the lungs). Arsenic, cadmium, chromium, crystalline silica, diesel exhaust, nickel, and uranium also are associated with lung cancer. If you have concerns about hazardous chemicals in your work environment, you should speak with your employer and your doctor about how best to protect yourself while on the job.

Cancer survivors who underwent radiation therapy to the chest also may have a higher risk of developing lung cancer, though it may take years for the disease to surface, if at all. According to the American Cancer Society, while some cases of leukemia related to previous radiation procedures develop within a few years of exposure (with the risk peaking at 5 to 9 years), solid tumor cancers like those of the lung and breast may not be diagnosed for 10, maybe more than 15 years after exposure. The risk of developing a solid tumor heightens as the dose of radiation increases. Some cancers require larger doses of radiation than others, the American Cancer Society says. A person’s age at the time of being exposed to radiation is also a factor. The American Cancer Society says the risk of getting a second cancer due to exposure to radiation treatment is real, but low. Radiation techniques have steadily improved over the years. Modern treatments target cancers more precisely and more is known about setting radiation doses. It is recommended that patients speak with their doctor about possible long-term effects before making a decision regarding radiation therapy.

In addition to preventive measures including tobacco cessation and reducing exposure to radon and industrial compounds, health experts recommend low-dose CT lung cancer screening for high-risk individuals, particularly current and former smokers between the ages of 55 and 80. LifeBridge Health offers an in-depth lung cancer screening procedure that can potentially detect the disease in its early stages, when it is easier to treat. The procedure, coordinated by a nurse navigator and a multidisciplinary team of experts, includes a low-dose CT chest scan that produces highly detailed images of internal structures and protects portions of the body beyond the scanned region from extreme X-ray exposure. The Thoracic Tumor Clinic at Sinai Hospital, which is a part of LifeBridge Health’s Alvin & Lois Lapidus Cancer Institute, treats small cell and non-small cell lung cancer as well as mesothelioma.

For more information about our lung cancer screenings, call 866-404-DOCS. If you have questions about the Thoracic Clinic, or if you would like to schedule an appointment, call 410-601-4600.

To schedule an appointment with one of our highly trained physicians and find out why LifeBridge Health is Baltimore's premier health care organization, call 410-601-WELL.

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    lifebridgehealth: "A great evening at Springwell Senior Living, one of #LifeBridgeHealth's newest partners. Members of our team recently joined residents and families for Springwell's third annual "Partners in Health Care Fair." Among the departments in attendance: outpatient pharmacy, Levindale physical therapy, @lifebridgefit, HomeCare Maryland, marketing and population health. Thanks to everyone who attended! #Baltimore #Maryland #healthcare #seniorliving #community"
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    lifebridgehealth: "#Repost @councilmanyitzy ・・・
While door knocking in the Pimlico neighborhood over a year ago, I learned that many kids did not have access to books. I pledged to bring books to where the kids are. Tonight we delivered on that promise. It was an honor to rollout the little free library 📚 initiative with @lifebridgehealth & @phrenaissance tonight in the Pimlico neighborhood. #promiseskept #books #littlefreelibrary #baltiMORE #commUNITY #wecandobetter"
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    lifebridgehealth: "#LifeBridgeHealth is celebrating #SpiritDay! Employees from Sinai Community Care OB/GYN wore purple and took the Spirit Day Pledge to support LGBTQ family members and friends who disproportionately face bullying and harassment because of their identities. #Baltimore #Maryland #hospital #sinaihospital"
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    lifebridgehealth: "Congratulations to these #SinaiHospital employees who received recognition through the iCARE program, which gives patients the opportunity to recognize employees for providing excellent care and service. #PatientExperience director Katie Starkey delivered the good news to these deserving team members. See more pics on our Facebook page! #Baltimore #Maryland #hospital #healthcare #patientcare"
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    lifebridgehealth: "Seeing is believing, and this team from the Krieger Eye Institute definitely "walks the walk" when it comes to supporting our communities. They recently laced up their sneakers to participate in the annual walk to support the @amdiabetesassn. #LifeBridgeHealth #stopdiabetes #diabetes #health #maryland #baltimore"
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    lifebridgehealth: "Today’s the big day! The 12th annual #SaveALimb Fund Fest is underway! Many thanks to our participants and volunteers for their show of support for a very worthy cause—patients in need at the Rubin Institute of Advanced #Orthopedics at #SinaiHospital. We’ll be sharing pictures from today’s event, so stay tuned! #Baltimore #Maryland #giveback"
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    lifebridgehealth: "#Repost @carroll_hospital #lifebridgehealth ・・・
The CDC says, "Your best shot is the flu shot." #fluvaccine #fluseason #getyourflushot #healthcare"
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    lifebridgehealth: "@wbaltv11 Baltimore recently interviewed this Eagle Scout who is volunteering his time to help children at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at #SinaiHospital. You can find out why on WBAL-TV's 5pm news on Wednesday, October 11. #Baltimore #Maryland #healthcare #hospital #childrenshospital #eaglescout"
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    lifebridgehealth: "#NorthwestHospital leaders recently welcomed Governor General Sir Rodney Williams of #Antigua and #Barbuda (second from left,) and his delegation to the hospital. Dr. Ronald Ginsberg presented the governor and his wife with a $2,500 gift from the Northwest Medical Staff to support the #hurricane relief effort. Northwest has a longstanding relationship with the American University of Antigua College of Medicine. #hurricanerelief"
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    lifebridgehealth: "Did you know that #SinaiHospital is a Level 2 #trauma center? Following the tragedy in #LasVegas, members of the trauma team spoke with WBAL-TV about how hospitals plan and prepare for emergency events. Watch for the story on WBAL-TV's 5 & 6 pm news. #ER #Emergency #Plan #EmergencyPlan #Prepare #Hospital #Healthcare #LifeBridgeHealth"
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