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You Don't Have to Smoke to Get Lung Cancer

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While 80 percent of lung cancer deaths are related to smoking, anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. Here are some of cancer-causing exposures you may not have known about, and actions you can take to help reduce your lung cancer risk.

Vaping

Vaping, or the use of e-cigarettes, is emerging as a public health crisis, with increasing numbers of lung injury cases and deaths being reported. While the effects on lung cancer risk are unproven, many vaping products contain carcinogens that have been tied to lung cancer.

What You Can Do:

  • Don’t vape and discourage others from the practice. The American Lung Association recommends that e-cigarettes not be used. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends people do not use e-cigarettes until more is known about the products.
  • Talk to your doctor about other ways to quit smoking.

Second- and Thirdhand Smoke

Yes, smoking is the #1 cause of lung cancer. This includes smoking cigars and pipes which are possibly even more toxic that cigarettes. But did you know exposure to second- and thirdhand also increases your risk for lung cancer? 

Secondhand smoke is smoke that comes from burning tobacco products, as well as the smoke a person who is smoking exhales. Every year, approximately 41,000 nonsmoking adults and 400 infants die from health problems related to secondhand smoke exposure.

Exposure to thirdhand smoke, or carcinogenic deposits that cling clothing and solid surfaces, can also increase the risk of lung cancer.

What You Can Do: 

  • Stop smoking. With each smoke-free day, your risk for lung cancer and other smoking-related illnesses decreases. Lancaster General Health offers a variety of resources, ranging from group classes to one-on-one coaching, to help. Learn more about quitting tobacco.
  • Make your home and vehicles smoke-free to help protect yourself and others.
  • Wash clothing after being exposed to smoke.

Radon

Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless, radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. It is found in nearly all soils and can get trapped in buildings. It is also the second most common cause of lung cancer.

Millions of U.S. homes have elevated radon levels (especially in basements) including 65% of homes in Lancaster County. Testing is the only way to learn if unsafe levels of radon are in your home. The good news is the problem can be corrected.

What You Can Do:

  • Test your home for radon. Radon test kits are available online and in some hardware and retail stores. Learn more at: https://www.epa.gov/radon.
  • If dangerous levels of radon are identified, seek a qualified radon mitigation contractor to fix your home. Radon mitigation requires specific technical knowledge and skills. The problem is usually corrected through a vent pipe system and fan which pull radon from under the house and vents it to the outside.
  • If you have a radon reduction system, make sure it receives occasional maintenance, similar to a furnace or chimney. This assures radon levels remain low.

Asbestos and Other Substances

Studies indicate that a variety of substances including asbestos, diesel exhaust, arsenic, and air pollution can increase lung cancer risk. For many of these substances, the risk is even higher for those who smoke.

What You Can Do:

  • Limit exposure to known cancer-causing substances.
  • Workers in jobs with high-risk exposures should follow appropriate health and safety rules, including wearing protective clothing and respiratory protection.

Personal or Family History

While there is no lung cancer gene, patterns do run in families. It is not clear how much of this increased risk is due to shared genes and how much might be from shared exposures like tobacco smoke or radon. If you are a lung cancer survivor, you have an increased risk of developing another lung cancer, especially if you smoke.

What You Can Do:

  • Be aware of second- and thirdhand risks and follow the tips above, regarding second- and thirdhand smoke and radon.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether genetic testing might be appropriate.

Lung Cancer Symptoms and Treatment

While lung cancer usually has no symptoms in its early stages, when signs do appear, they can include the following. Contact your doctor if you experience:

  • New wheezing
  • Seizures
  • New arthritis or joint swelling
  • New fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Blood in sputum
  • Hoarseness

Where to Seek Care

If you or a loved one is facing a potential lung cancer diagnosis, look for a health system that offers a multi-disciplinary team of experts with access to the most advanced treatment options. At the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute, patients are in the hands of an experienced team of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, pulmonologists, nurse navigators, dietitians, and social workers focused on fighting lung cancer. The team offers a full range of advanced therapies, and collaborates to create an individualized treatment plan for every person diagnosed with lung cancer. 

The Cancer Institute can be reached at 717-544-9400.

author name

David J. Cziperle, MD

David J. Cziperle, MD is a thoracic surgeon with the Ann B Barshinger Cancer Institute. Dr. Cziperle is board-certified in thoracic surgery and is passionate about providing customized care to meet the needs of patients dealing with a lung cancer diagnosis.

Education: Medical School–Loyola University Medical Center; Residencies–Medical College of Wisconsin, Loyola University Medical Center.

Call: 717-544-9400

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.

 

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