How do you lower your risk of lung cancer?

Cancer arises from the uncontrollable and indefinable growth of cells, and when it starts in the lungs, it is known as lung cancer. There is no doubt that lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death, accounting for nearly 25% of all cancer deaths each year, which is more than colon, prostate and breast cancer combined.

There are two main types of lung cancer:

  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC), accounting for 13% of all lung cancers.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), accounting for 84% of all lung cancers

Sometimes lung cancer remains silent and shows no symptoms and may be found accidentally during a chest X-ray, for other reasons, or routine examination. Sometimes the patients may experience severe cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain, blood in the sputum or swelling in the face and neck.

What are the risk factors for lung cancer?

Lung cancer can affect anyone at any age, but some are at greater risk due to certain factors. The following are the factors that increase your chances of getting it:

  • To smoke: Tobacco is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. About 90% of men and 80% of women develop lung cancer as a result of tobacco smoking. You are more likely to get lung cancer if you start smoking earlier in life, are a long-term smoker, or smoke a lot of cigarettes every day. The risk of lung cancer increases many times if you smoke with alcohol consumption or intake of beta-carotene supplements.
  • Second-hand smoke: People who do not smoke but who remain in constant contact with cigarette smoke have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. A person with secondhand smoke also has the same exposure to carcinogens as smokers, albeit in a smaller amount.
  • Family history of lung cancer
  • Exposure to outdoor pollutants: Long-term exposure to air pollutants and hazardous substances in the workplace, such as arsenic, chromium, beryllium, asbestos, nickel and tar, can increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Exposure to indoor pollutants: Radon levels, indoor particulate matter (PM) and the use of solid fuels in the home increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Exposure to radiation: Radiation therapy for breast, throat, and breast cancer and imaging tests (CT scans) increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • infections: Several infections, such as mycobacterium tuberculosis, lower respiratory tract infections, HIV, HPV, and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), can increase the risk of developing lung cancer.

How can we reduce the risk of lung cancer?

While lung cancer cannot be prevented in all cases, changing the risk factors you can control can reduce your risk of lung cancer, such as:

According to a study, smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by 25%. The best way to lower your risk of lung cancer is not to smoke. Once you stop smoking, the damaged lung tissues gradually begin to heal, no matter how much you smoked or how long you smoked. Even quitting smoking after lung cancer is detected also helps improve survival and overall health and reduces the likelihood of secondary cancers. You can get help from experts if you are having trouble quitting.

  • Avoid inhalation of secondhand smoke:

More than 70 chemicals are present in tobacco smoke that people can inhale through secondhand smoke. CDC statistics indicate that secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year. Therefore, keep your distance if a smoker smokes near you to reduce the risk of lung cancer.

  • Avoid exposure to carcinogens:

Wear protective masks and equipment in the workplace to reduce exposure to hazardous substances, such as radon, arsenic, chromium, beryllium, asbestos, nickel, and tar. Testing your home for radon levels and treating it if necessary can help reduce your exposure to radon.

People with a family history of lung cancer are twice as likely to get lung cancer as people without lung cancer. If you have immediate family members with lung cancer, see your doctor for regular screening. Early detection and prompt treatment can help prevent the spread of cancer and improve quality of life.

  • Limit your exposure to radiation:

Wearing protective lead aprons and collars during radiotherapy sessions for head, neck, throat and abdominal cancers may reduce the risk of lung cancer.

  • Eat a nutrient-dense diet:

A healthy diet with whole grains, fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of lung cancer. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables contains numerous antioxidants and plant bioactive compounds that fight cancer cells and reduce cancer progression.

Daily exercise can improve lung functions, reduce inflammation and improve our immunity, which can reduce the impact of cancer-causing risk factors. Physical activities can reduce the risk of lung cancer by 20-50%.

It is possible to prevent lung cancer by reducing risk factors and taking more preventive measures. Regular screening after age 55 is crucial for early detection of any diseases and their treatment for a better life.

Dr. KM Parthasarathy, Senior Consultant – Medical Oncology, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi

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