Sunday 06 December 2009, 19:27

Lung cancer: a preventable disease

An overview on lung cancer risk factors and prevention

Lung cancer: a preventable disease

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women. That’s why it is so important to be aware of risk factors that can lead to the development of lung cancer and take the appropriate measures to prevent it.


A risk factor is anything that may increase the chance of developing a disease. Although risk factors do not directly cause cancer, they can influence its development and progression. Some of them are unchangeable or unmanageable, others are changeable and manageable.


Studies have shown that the most important risk factors for lung cancer are tobacco smoking, radon and asbestos exposure and, to a lesser extent, air pollution, family history of lung cancer, age over 65 years.


Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Harmful substances in tobacco smoke damage lung cells and cause them to grow abnormally. People who smoke are 10 to 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer or die from it than people who do not smoke, depending on how long they have been smoking and how much cigarettes they usually smoke in a day. In people who quit smoking before lung cancer develops, the damaged lung tissue starts to gradually return to normal. However even after ten years, the ex-smoker’s risk will be higher than the risk of a person who never smoked.


The exposure to secondhand smoke (passive smoking), causes lung cancer as well. At least 50 of the chemicals that have been identified in secondhand tobacco smoke (such as arsenic, chromium, nickel and vinyl chloride) are known to cause cancer.


Occupational exposure to radon, asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel and other substances can increase the risk of lung cancer and this risk is even higher for smokers. The use of personal protective equipment and proper ventilation of work areas reduce the risk of lung cancer from exposure to these substances.


The most important preventive measure for lung cancer is to avoid tobacco smoke, both as a smoker and form secondhand smoke. Various unsuccessful attempts have been made to prevent lung cancer by using vitamins or other treatments. For example, the results obtained testing beta-carotene have shown that not only beta-carotene doesn’t reduce the risk of lung cancer, but actually increases this risk in people who continue smoking.


Therefore quitting smoking (and avoiding secondhand tobacco smoke) remains the number one preventive measure for lung cancer.


By Chiara De Carli

Category: Cancer

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