Day 19 – CAUSES & CORRELATIONS – What are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?
Scientists appreciate the causation vs correlation debate. Are you familiar with it? In a nutshell, and in relationship to Lung Cancer, it is a logical argument to decipher what directly and absolutely leads to lung cancer (cause and effect) and simply a relationship of things that are shown to be present in high frequency in patients with lung cancer (correlation).
Citing herein, but not having personally spent the years conducting and vouching for the actual studies myself, a majority of providers and researchers in the healthcare arena view the following at least correlative if not causative risk factors that increase your chances of getting Lung Cancer:
- Smoking: Statistics vary slightly depending on the study and average that around 85 to 90% of patients with lung cancer smoke; among those that smoke 2 or more packs per day chances of developing lung cancer change from 1 in 16 to 1 in 7; people who quit 10 years ago have lowered risk, and higher risk than those who have never smoked; 10% of smokers develop lung cancer; smokers who take beta-carotene supplements have been shown to have increased risk. The lack of long-term research availability regarding the relatively new e-cigarettes is evident, but studies are underway to research the short- and longer-term effects; preliminary studies show significantly reduced, yet still existent, risk. There are hundreds of studies available in google-land for you, each studying varying aspects of the relationship of smoking and lung cancer – dive in and research if you’re a smoker and learn if you can lower your risk.
- Radon: A naturally occurring radioactive gas from the earth which can accumulate and become concentrated indoors, radon is said to be the second leading cause of lung cancer.
- Asbestos: Bundles of naturally occurring fibers that resist fire and heat, asbestos used to be used extensively in electrical insulation, wiring, building insulation, and some cement pipes. Therefore the substance can be inhaled, or swallowed. It is also found in the outdoors, particularly in rocky regions. Regulations have minimized or eliminated use in industry and building in some parts of the world.
- Other airborne and ingestible factors: Other carcinogens found in the air may also increase the risk for lung cancer, including diesel exhaust, inhaled chemicals such as arsenic, coal products, and nickel compounds, radioactive ores such as uranium, and more. Arsenic in drinking water remains an increased concern in areas of the world such as South America and Southeast Asia.
- Family and Personal History: While not definitive regarding how shared environments and/or genetics play a role, siblings and children of people with lung cancer seem to have a slightly higher incidence of lung cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. People having had one lung cancer have an increased risk of developing a second lung cancer. People having had radiation to the chest (for example, to treat breast cancer or Hodgkins Lymphoma) show higher rates of disease, as well.
- Diet and exercise: Clinical trials are ongoing and thus far, that I could find, have not been conclusive that changes in diet and exercise have correlation on the incidence of disease, and/or its role in treatment and health outcomes. That said, prognosis is statistically slightly prolonged with those patients of younger years and who have fewer or less severe co-morbidities in their general health when diagnosed.
Stigma (“a mark of disgrace or inferiority associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”): A lung cancer diagnosis often carries an incredibly strong stigma of blame and shame. The American Lung Association (ALA) states that “poorer health outcomes are associated with lung cancer than other cancers partially due to shame, biases and judgment. This can lead to subsequent avoidance or delays in seeking treatment, lack of illness disclosure, relationship conflicts, a reduction is social support, lower quality of care, etc.” We don’t treat breast cancer patients with the enacted disdain of ‘having brought it on themselves’, yet the effects on the medical and financial arenas of the choice to smoke are also palpable. There are a lot of facets to this disease and stigma. “Exposure to people with lung cancer and those who love them humanizes the disease” says a lung cancer stakeholder via the ALA. “Research shows stigma appears to be experienced more by lung cancer patients than by other patient groups; and more by smokers compared to nonsmokers. Fear of being denied treatment, concealment of their condition and psychosocial distress such as anxiety, depression and isolation are all negative impacts of stigma that affect lung cancer patients”, quotes the American Lung Association in their document Addressing the Stigma of Lung Cancer. My personal hope is that education, individual motivation and responsibility for that which we can change, and empathy will help each other through this insidious disease.