Living Well

No butts about it—smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer

Dr. William Borron
No butts about it—smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer

When it comes to cancer, lung cancer now claims more lives yearly than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. According to research, 1 in 15 people in the United States will be diagnosed with lung cancer at some point during their lifetime. While smoking is the most common cause, several other factors can increase a person’s risk for lung cancer. Awareness is key to preventing this disease, and that’s why August 1 is now designated as World Lung Cancer Day. This day is an opportunity to log into various social media platforms to hear from doctors and patients who have had experience with this disease.

Lung cancer starts slow, then grows out of control if not detected

Like most cancers, lung cancer starts when cells that make up the lung begin to change or mutate and grow uncontrollably. Eventually, these cells will develop into a tumor, and if not detected, the cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body. There are two main types of lung cancer, with one type having a few sub-types:

  • Small Cell Lung Cancer: this type makes up 10-15 percent of all cancer cases. This cancer begins in the airways of the chest, which leads to the lungs. It is an aggressive form of cancer that has commonly spread to other organs by the time it’s diagnosed.
  • Non-small Cell Lung Cancer: this type of cancer is the most common as it accounts for 85 percent of lung cancer cases. This cancer starts in the largest cells in the lungs and develops into one of three types of lung cancer:
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: which is typically found in the middle of the lung
  • Adenocarcinoma: the type is more commonly found in women than men; it is a slow-growing cancer found on the outside parts of the lung
  • Large cell carcinoma: can be found anywhere in the lungs and is extremely fast- growing

When it comes to lung cancer risks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. Research over many decades has focused on smoking, and the numbers speak for themselves dating back for years:

  • Lung cancer was rare before the 20th century, but once smoking became widespread, lung cancer became the most common type of cancer diagnosed
  • In 1962, a study showed smoking was responsible for 94 percent of lung cancer cases and continues to be the number one cause of lung cancer
  • The same study showed smokers were 24-36 times more likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers

Even though we’ve known that cigarettes or tobacco products are dangerous for a long time, current research shows that smoking is still a habit among many, including younger people, though thankfully, the percentage of smokers is expected to decrease over the next few years. When it comes to other risk factors, though, there are many:

  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to asbestos, coal products, radon and other chemicals
  • Air pollution
  • Radiation treatment to the chest
  • Family history or personal history of lung cancer
  • HIV infection

While improving, Louisiana continues to rank high when it comes to lung cancer

In its latest report, the American Lung Association noted that Louisiana continues to rank among the worst states for new lung cancer cases even though the rate of new cases dropped 8 percent over the last five years. In addition, the survival rate for those diagnosed with lung cancer continues to remain significantly lower than the national average. According to oncologists practicing in West Jefferson Medical Center’s Cancer Center, lung cancer can manifest for years and is often diagnosed in older patients. That’s why it’s crucial to alert your doctor of any risk factors you have and make sure part of your annual check-up includes a cancer screening. If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, or any cancer, the medical center offers the latest cancer treatments by designing comprehensive individualized care based upon your diagnosis. Like most diseases, knowing the risks and doing your part to stay healthy is the first step to avoiding serious illness.

If you are interested in learning more about lung cancer, symptoms, and treatment options, on August 1, the Lung Cancer Foundation of America honors World Lung Cancer Day. The foundation will offer a four-hour online program that can be accessed through various social media platforms. The program starts at 10am Central time and will feature cancer specialists, patients, and patient advocates covering a wide range of topics. Locally, if you have questions concerning cancer care in general, you can visit the medical center’s online resource center or call 504.349.6360.

About Dr. William Borron:
Headshot of Dr. William BorronDr. William Borron specializes in pulmonology at West Jefferson Medical Center. After earning his medical degree from LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he completed his residency at LSU in New Orleans, followed by his fellowships in pulmonology at LSU.