November 14, 2022

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month: Know the Risks!

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis, and there will be an estimated 234,580 new cases this year ¹.

Did you know that living in Pennsylvania might increase your risk of developing lung cancer? Cases of lung cancer are higher in Pennsylvania than the national average ².

Smoking, radon, and air pollution can all increase the risk- and Pennsylvania has one of the most serious radon problems in all of the United States! Read below to learn more about this common, serious disease.


Lung Cancer Information

Lung cancer is caused by uncontrollable growth of cells in the lungs. The two main groups of lung cancer are small cell and non-small cell, with non-small cell being more common. These two groups of lung cancer grow differently and are treated differently, too.

Lung cancer is usually detected with imaging tests like CT and PET scans. The diagnosis is confirmed with a biopsy. There are many forms of biopsy tests that can help doctors confirm the diagnosis, but one of the most common tests is called a bronchoscopy. During a bronchoscopy, a doctor inserts a flexible tube into the large airways of the lungs in order to view tumors and take tissue samples ².

Tissue samples and surgical resections are handled in the HNL laboratory by specialized physician assistants and technologists who cut tissue sections and lay them on glass slides. Slides are reviewed by an HNL board certified pathologist using a microscope and a diagnosis is rendered and issued as a pathology report. The pathology report will be received by your physician to help your physician make personalized management decisions. In general, lung cancer is treated with surgery and other methods such as chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy.


Radon and Lung Cancer

Approximately 40% of homes in Pennsylvania have radon levels above Environmental Protection Agency’s action guideline ³. Radon is a tasteless, odorless gas that is produced naturally from the decomposition of radioactive metals in rocks, soil, and groundwater. Radon is a known carcinogen and is the second leading cause of lung cancer ³.

Radon gas can seep into buildings and homes through cracks in the foundation. The only way to know if your home has elevated levels of radon is to test for it. High levels can be reduced with the installation of a radon mitigation system.


Smoking and Lung Cancer

Despite Pennsylvania’s high radon levels, smoking remains the leading cause of lung cancer. Smoking causes up to 80-90% of lung cancer deaths ⁴. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are toxic. Even breathing secondhand smoke can increase a person’s risk of developing lung cancer.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smokers are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer than people who do not smoke ⁴.


Quitting Smoking

According to the American Cancer Society, quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking related diseases by up to 90% ⁵- but the benefits aren’t limited to this age group.

Quitting smoking has health benefits at any age and can add up to 10 years to your life ⁵.

The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of lung cancer and other smoking related diseases is quit smoking.


Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness
  • Wheezing
  • Weight loss

Symptoms of lung cancer vary from person to person. Symptoms can include other parts of the body in cases of lung cancer that have spread throughout the body. Some people may have frequent bouts of pneumonia or swollen lymph nodes inside the chest ⁴.


Be Aware of Your Risk

There are a few things you can do to lower your risk of developing lung cancer. The CDC recommends quitting smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke, and testing your home for radon ⁴.

Yearly screening for those at risk can help catch cancer in the earliest, most treatable stages. A person diagnosed with lung cancer in the earliest stages is up to five times more likely to survive the disease- but only 18% of lung cancer cases in Pennsylvania are diagnosed early ⁶.

Lung cancer screening saves lives. Yearly screening is recommended for all current or former smokers over age 50. Speak to your healthcare provider about lung cancer risks or screening today.

¹ National Cancer Institute. (2024). Cancer Stat Facts: Common Cancer Sites. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
² American Lung Association. (2023). State of Lung Cancer: Pennsylvania.
³ Department of Environmental Protection. (2022). Radon in the Home. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
⁴ Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, October 26). Lung Cancer. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
⁵ American Cancer Society. (2020). Health benefits of quitting smoking over time.
⁶ American Lung Association. (2018, February 28). American Lung Association Finds That Pennsylvania Can do More to Reduce the Toll of Lung Cancer.