Sarah Cannon - November 19, 2015

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a time to educate yourself on the risk factors for developing lung cancer. On November 19th, the American Cancer Society celebrates the Great American Smokeout: a day to educate smokers and their families on the risks of smoking and a chance for smokers to triumph over addiction.

Tobacco use remains the largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. Did you know 42 million Americans smoke cigarettes?

Prevention and screening are key in the fight against lung cancer but what if you are, or have been, a smoker? Kathleen Ames, oncology nurse navigator at HCA North Texas, a Sarah Cannon partner, addresses some of the most common questions about lung cancer and smoking. Kathy Ames

How much does smoking increase my chance of developing lung cancer?

Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, linked to approximately 90% of lung cancer cases. Male and female smokers are approximately 25 times times more likely to develop lung cancer then men and women who have never smoked.

If I quit smoking, can I reduce my risk for developing lung cancer? How much?

The longer you smoke and the more packs a day you smoke, the greater your risk for developing lung cancer. However, quitting smoking does greatly improve your health and decrease your risk for lung cancer and other health issues. Ten years after quitting smoking, the risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking.

The American Cancer Society highlights the benefits of quitting over time.

  • 20 Minutes After You Quit Smoking: Heart rate drops to normal and in 12 hours the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal
  • 2 Weeks to 3 Months After: Lung function begins to improve
  • 1 Year After: Added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s
  • 5 Years After: Risk of having a stroke is reduced to that of a nonsmoker’s; risk of getting cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, cervix or bladder is half that of a smoker’s
  • 10 Years After: Risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a smoker’s
  • 15 Years After: Risk of coronary heart disease is the same as that of a nonsmoker.

What else causes lung cancer?

Radon gas exposure is the second leading cause of the lung cancer. Radon is a tasteless, colorless, odorless radioactive gas that exists naturally in soil. It enters buildings through gaps and cracks in basements, walls or foundations. One out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is subject to radon exposure. If you have not already, be sure to have your house tested for this type of gas.

Does second-hand smoke cause lung cancer?

Regular exposure to second-hand smoke can increase the risk for developing lung cancer by 20-30%. It is estimated that approximately 3,000 lung cancer-related deaths occur each year among adult nonsmokers in the U.S. as a result of exposure to second-hand smoke.

Can smokeless tobacco products cause cancer?

Smokeless tobacco is tobacco that is not burned.  Two common types of smokeless tobacco are ‘chewing tobacco’ and ‘snuff’. With these type of products, the nicotine from the tobacco is absorbed through the lining of the mouth. Smokeless tobacco can cause cancer, oral lesions and lead to nicotine addiction and dependence.

Is vaping (e-cigarettes) safer than smoking cigarettes?

Although e-cigarettes are thought by some to be a safer alternative to tobacco there is not enough evidence to support using e-cigarettes is an effective smoking cessation tool. While e-cigarettes have been shown to have less nicotine than regular cigarettes, it does not mean they are carcinogen-free. Currently, there are over 2,000 companies who manufacture e-cigarettes with no regulation of its ingredients. With little to no data available on the long-term effects on the lungs, it is safer to quit smoking altogether.

Remember, protecting your lungs is the best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer.

  • Don’t smoke, if you do, quit.
  • Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke as much as possible.
  • Test you home for radon gas.
  • Practice healthy lifestyle behaviors such as balanced nutrition and exercise

For more information on lung cancer symptoms, screening, diagnosis and treatment, visit our lung cancer education website pages.