Causes And Symptoms of Lung Cancer For Non-Smokers
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The mention of lung cancer brings to mind a picture of someone with a cigarette in hand, shrouded in smoke, oblivious of the ‘dark future’ that awaits them.Years and years of conditioning (or shall I say mis-conditioning?) by the media has meant that the mention of lung cancer is automatically perceived as an outcome of tobacco use. Truth? That’s only a tiny part of the picture.
Lung cancer kills more people in the world than any other cancer does; even more than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. Still, there is probably no other cancer that is more misunderstood. Let’s re-evaluate everything we’ve ever known about the disease, shall we?
What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer, like all cancers, roots from an abnormality in the unit of life – cell. Usually, cell multiplication and growth in the body is highly controlled. In some cases, this system of checks is disrupted, leading to an uncontrolled reproduction of cells, that eventually form a mass called a tumour. Tumours can be either benign (don’t spread to other parts of the body) or malignant (spread to other parts through a process called metastasis), and cancer is generally the latter – which makes it all the more dangerous. These cancerous cells could then enter the bloodstream or the lymphatic system, and reach just about any part of the body through there.
What are the common symptoms of lung cancer?
- Chronic, raspy, painful coughs with mucus that may have blood in it
- Repeated bouts of respiratory infections, including bronchitis or pneumonia
- Progressively worsening shortness of breath
- Persistent chest pain
- Swelling in the neck and the face
- Pain and weakness in nearby areas, like the shoulders and arms
- Fatigue, weakness, sudden loss of weight and appetite, fever, severe headaches, and body pain
- Trouble while swallowing
- Genetics – A 1963 study by Tokuhta and Lilienfeld reported a 2.5-fold higher risk of lung cancer in individuals who had a first-degree relative with a history of the disease, and multiple recent studies have corroborated this. This risk multiplies in cases where the relatives were diagnosed with the disease before the age of 40, or in cases where there are multiple members with lung cancer.
- Passive smoking – If Cancer Research UK is to be believed, then just being around smokers can increase your risk of lung cancer by 25 per cent! The logic behind this is that whether you’re smoking or not, you’re still inhaling the same tobacco smoke, or rather, sidestream smoke as opposed to mainstream smoke. Sidestream smoke comes from the burning end of the cigarette, while mainstream smoke is directly inhaled through the smoking end of the cigarette. Shockingly, sidestream smoke is about 4 times more toxic than mainstream smoke, although inhaled in a diluted form.
- Asbestos poisoning – Asbestos is a compound that is used as thermal and soundproofing material, whose microscopic fibres separate from it, are released into the air, and inhaled easily into the lungs. People who work in asbestos manufacturing have a 5-fold greater chance of developing lung cancer than non-smokers do.
- Lung disease – Severe lung infections like tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema can escalate your risk of lung cancer due to the scarring and inflammation that may occur and turn carcinogenic, later in life.
- Air pollution – It is believed that air pollution is responsible for thousands of lung cancer related deaths every year. The most common culprits to air pollution include vehicular exhaust, industrial exhaust, and fumes from power plants that burn natural gas or coal.
It is sufficient to say that lung cancer kills more people, both men and women, than any other cancer in the world! Even though it is predominantly a disease of the elderly (70 per cent of the people diagnosed are over 65 years of age), thousands of lives are still lost in their youth due to lung cancer.
How can I protect myself?
While nothing will guarantee 100 per cent prevention, you can still make sure that your risk of the disease is at a minimum. Here are a few ways to do it:
- Avoid smoking and exposure to second hand smoke.
- Ensure that health and safety guidelines are being followed in the workplace that help employees avoid carcinogens.
- When using products like dishwasher liquids or window cleaners, make sure you follow safety instructions. Also, read the labels of any product that you buy. Educate yourself on the common carcinogens present in everyday products.
- Bust your butt. Studies suggest that even a simple and low-impact activity like gardening can lower your risk of developing lung cancer.
Lastly, the air outside is hazardous to your health today more than ever (thanks to pollution). If you live in a metro city, one prone to traffic and congestion, then it is wise to check pollution levels every day before stepping out. Wear an anti-pollution mask if need be; in fact, buy one for every member of the family, especially the little ones and the elderly. Buy an air purifier. Consider getting indoor plants that will help purify the air. Breathe easy, live healthy.