Lung Cancer in Men
What Is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer typically occurs after long-term exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. Smoking or asbestos damages lung cells, creating mutations in the cells' genetic code (DNA). After years of damage to their DNA, the cells veer out of control -- growing, multiplying, and traveling where they don't belong. Eventually, they interfere with normal bodily functions, in the lungs or elsewhere.
Studies now show that low-dose helical chest CT scans are useful in screening high-risk patients for lung cancer. In a study of more than 50,000 patients who were at high risk of developing lung cancer, the use of this type of CT scan reduced the mortality of lung cancer by 20%.
Guidelines recommend screening for the following:
- People aged 55 to 74 with a 30 or more pack year history of smoking; if a former smoker, he must have quit within 15 years; and
- People aged 50 and older with a 20 or more pack a year history of smoking and one additional risk factor such as chest radiation.
What Can I Do to Prevent Lung Cancer?
If you currently smoke, get serious about stopping. Studies show people who quit before age 50 reduce their risk of dying over the next 15 years by half compared with those who continue to smoke. While you commit yourself to quitting, it's also wise to avoid taking antioxidant supplements, especially beta-carotene. Studies show that it can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
Obviously, kicking the habit isn't easy, or many more smokers would do it. Surveys show a large majority of smokers want to quit. The problem is nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Still, thousands of people do quit successfully -- substantially reducing their risk. Talk to your doctor or check out resources of the American Cancer Society.
Other ways to prevent lung cancer include:
If you don't smoke, don't start. Try to avoid secondhand smoke by avoiding restaurants or bars where people smoke. If you live with smokers, insist that they light up outside only. And encourage them to quit.
Whether you smoke or not, avoid exposure to radon.
Radon can collect in homes, especially those that are highly insulated for cold weather and thus retain gas that may leak up through the foundation. An inexpensive and easy-to-use kit that accurately measures radon levels is available in most hardware stores.
Exercise and eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. These healthy habits will lower your risk of several forms of cancer, as well as heart disease and diabetes.
How Is Lung Cancer Treated?
Some tumors, if they are detected early, can be removed surgically. Other lung cancer treatments include chemotherapy and radiation. The FDA has approved several new drugs that shrink tumors, called monoclonal antibodies. Research is also underway to develop gene therapies.
Thanks to improved treatment, more people survive lung cancer than before, but the odds are still not good. Your wisest move is to avoid this deadly cancer -- and the best way to do that is not to smoke.