Our body consists of trillions of cells that follow a certain cycle of growing, dividing, and dying. When these cells grow out of control, they may become cancerous and invade other tissues. Cancer is a group of over 100 diseases, distinctive by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells, and if remain untreated, may even cause death.
According to the American Cancer Society, almost 1,660,290 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed this year. Some of these individuals were previously cancer-free, while others still have evidence of cancer, and some still may be undergoing treatment. Several types of cancer include breast cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer and lung cancer, the latter having the most recorded number of deaths.
Lung cancer is the number one leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. It also causes more deaths than the next three common cancers combined (breast, colon and prostate). Lung cancer begins in the lungs and may continually spread to lymph nodes or other organs in the body. Lung cancers are usually grouped into two main types: small cell and non-small cell; non-small cell being the more common.
Different people who have lung cancer may have different symptoms. Some may show symptoms related to the lungs, while others whose lung cancer has already spread out to other parts of the body, may have symptoms specific to that body part. There are also some people who don’t show any symptoms until the cancer is in its advance stages.
Smoking is noted as the main cause of small cell and non-small cell lung cancer, and the risk increases with both quantity and duration of smoking. This contributes to 80% and 90% of lung cancer deaths for men and women, respectively. Men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer; while for women, they are 13 times more likely than non-smokers.
Based on 2008 SEER Cancer Statistics Review, each year an average of 125,522 Americans died of smoking-attributable lung cancer, from 2000 to 2004 alone, and exposure to second-hand smoke caused 3,400 lung cancer death among non-smokers. Non-smokers also have 20-30% greater chance to develop lung cancer when they’re exposed to too much second-hand smoke.
Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer, which accounts for an estimated 15,000-22,000 lung cancer death every year. Radon is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas produced by decaying uranium that occurs naturally in soil and rock. The majority of deaths occur mostly to smokers because they are already at high risk prior to radon exposure. Other causes may include occupational exposures (asbestos and uranium) and environmental exposures.
There are several medical therapies that can help treat lung cancer like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and palliative care. These can be administered alone or combined in the attempt to cure or lessen the adverse impact of the malignant tumors in the lung tissue. Surgery is usually the treatment of choice for those with localized non-small cell lung cancer, and survival is mostly improved by using chemotherapy.
Based on the American Cancer Society, the 1-year relative survival rate for lung cancer increased from 37% in 1975-1979 to 44% in 2005-2008. This is largely due to the advancement of surgical techniques and integrated therapies. However, the 5-yr survival rate for all stages combined is only 16% which is quite low. As recorded in the same study, only 15% of lung cancers are diagnosed at a localized stage, for which the survival rate is 52%. For distant tumors that already spread out to other parts of the body, the 5-yr survival rate is only 3.5%. Over half of people with lung cancer die within a year after being diagnosed.
Lung cancer is still the major cancer-killer in both men and women in the United States. The number of deaths has also increased from approximately 152,156 to 158,656 or 4.3% between 1999-2008. In 2010, 158,248 people in the United States died from lung cancer, including 87,698 men and 70,550 women. The estimated deaths from lung cancer (small cell and non-small cell) for 2013, according to the American Lung Association, is 159,480. Death rates also vary with race, ethnicity and age. The age-adjusted mortality rate for lung cancer is higher for men (63.6 per 100,000 persons) than women (39.0 per 100,000 persons). It is also higher for African Americans, causing 53.4% per 100,000 deaths, compared to whites, 50.2% per 100,000 persons.
David Novak is a nationally syndicated columnist, and his byline has appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world — including USA Today, Reader’s Digest, GQ, Cosmopolitan and Wall Street Journal. He’s an avid health enthusiast, and frequently is featured in regional and national health publications, writing about health, fitness, diet and wellness. He is also a weekly writer for Healthline. To visit his other stories on Healthline, visit http://www.healthline.com/.