Lung Cancer Prevention: An Overview of the Risks and Importance of Early Detection
While lung cancer typically occurs in those who smoke, there are other risk factors, both within and beyond our control. Dr. Nicole Scivoletti-Polan, pulmonologist at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Washington Township’s Lung Nodule Center, shares more about these risk factors, as well as the importance of screening and early detection.
For non-smokers, prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke may cause lung cancer, as well as other adverse effects. To reduce this risk, remove yourself from the environment, if possible.
“I’ve seen patients who spent years working at bars and casinos,” Dr. Scivoletti continued. “Because they spent so much time with people smoking around them, even though they themselves never smoked, they developed lung cancer.”
Other common risk factors include exposure to asbestos or radon, and inhalation of other carcinogens.
“This is why we check our homes for radon and asbestos,” Dr. Scivoletti explained. “Some chemicals are more dangerous than others. It’s especially worrisome when patients have had exposure from working in insulation processing, installation or remediation.”
Unfortunately, steering clear of these toxic elements is sometimes beyond our control, particularly if there’s air pollution from nearby factories and chemical plants.
In addition, common risk factors for other chronic illnesses, such as family history and diet, don’t play a significant role in lung cancer development.
“Keeping your weight in check, reducing inflammation and improving your overall health is always a great goal and could help reduce the risk, but there is no guarantee,” said Dr. Scivoletti.
Because the most prominent risk factor of smoking is voluntary, specialists approach prevention from the standpoint of proper screening.
“In our world, we view early detection of lung cancer as a kind of prevention, because it allows a much better chance of survival,” explained Dr. Scivoletti. “If lung cancer isn’t caught early in at-risk patients, it can be inoperable.”
Lung cancer screening can be ordered by most physicians, including your primary care provider. To qualify as an at-risk patient, you must be between the ages of 55 and 77 and have a tobacco smoking history of at least 30 pack years (the equivalent to a pack per day for 30 years, or two packs per day for 15 years).
“If we find cancer after screening, we do a resection and then continue to follow up,” Dr. Scivoletti continued. “This is when we can emphasize further prevention, such as quitting smoking and removal of environmental factors.”
For smokers who don’t yet meet this description, quitting can significantly reduce the risk for lung cancer. If you’re trying to quit, don’t become discouraged if you fail on the first try.
“Remember, you’re not alone. Quitting takes most people multiple tries,” said Dr. Scivoletti. “With every year that you’re clean, your risk will drop. After 15 years of smoking cessation, your risk is back to that of a non-smoker. That’s something to be proud of!”
“We want this to be a more preventable disease. To do that, we need to reduce the amount of people who smoke,” said Dr. Scivoletti. “Know that there are compassionate and experienced thoracic experts and other specialists that are here to help.”
If you’re trying to quit smoking, there are many resources available to help you take control of your health, including Smoking Cessation Support Groups and the New Jersey Quitline 1-866-NJSTOPS (657-8677).