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Lung cancer is one of the most feared cancers and also one of the most frequently encountered. It's the second most common cancer in both men and women, behind only prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. Smoking is the leading risk factor, but there are other environmental and occupational causes that everyone should be aware of.
There are two basic types of lung cancer, Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC).
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer is the more common form, and refers to a number of different lung cancers that behave in similar ways. Most types of cancer under this label are more likely to be found before spreading.
Small Cell Lung Cancer is less common, occurring in about 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer cases, and is most prevalent in heavy smokers. It tends to spread faster than NSCLC, having already metastasized, or spread elsewhere in the body, by the time of diagnosis in 70 percent of cases. It responds well to chemotherapy and radiation, but often reoccurs.
Although there are variations in type of lung cancer, the effect of all types is wide-reaching.
One of the factors that makes lung cancer so dangerous is that symptoms often don't show themselves until the disease has advanced, and some of the symptoms could be mistaken for other concerns:
The positive news about lung cancer is that many of the risk factors can be reduced or eliminated through lifestyle or environment changes:
Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke: not just cigarettes, but cigars and pipes as well, and low-tar, "light" cigarettes do not appreciably reduce your risk.
Certain dietary supplements: taking beta carotene increases lung cancer risk.
High arsenic levels in drinking water.
Radon exposure: this naturally occurring gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in America, after smoking.
Asbestos exposure: people who work with asbestos are several times more likely to die of lung cancer or develop mesothelioma, which starts in the lung lining.
Carcinogen exposure: especially prevalent in certain workplaces, this can include exposure to or inhalation of many different cancer-causing agents, such as:
Some risk factors unfortunately can't be altered, however:
With so many factors in developing lung cancer being avoidable, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of the disease, or manage it early:
Quit Smoking or Never Start: Even if you are a smoker, quitting can reduce your risk of lung cancer. Your lung tissue gradually repairs itself when you stop smoking. No matter your age or how long you've smoked, quitting can help you live longer.
Avoid Radon Exposure: Get your home tested for radon, a colorless, odorless gas that can cause lung cancer. It's naturally present in rocks and soil, being produced by their natural breakdown, and can enter buildings through cracks, construction joints, or gaps in building foundations. It tends to be in higher concentrations in basements or crawlspaces close to the ground.
Avoid Carcinogens: If your type of employment has the potential to expose you to cancer-causing agents, take steps to reduce that exposure and always use hazard controls and gear that will reduce the potential for inhalation, such as face masks.
Healthy Diet and Lifestyle: A diet full of fruits and vegetables, as well as regular exercise, can reduce the risk of many cancers, and lung cancer is no exception.
Get Screened if You're High Risk: Lung cancer screening is not as common as other types of cancer screening, but a combination of certain traits makes some people high-risk. These people are recommended for yearly screening: