Lung cancer: myths vs. facts

s a part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we spend November recognizing all those whose lives have been impacted by this disease and educating ourselves about the risks, prevention, and treatment of this fatal disease.  

According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the deadliest cancer for men and women in the United States. In fact, more people die from lung cancer than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Despite being so prevalent, there are many misunderstandings about the disease. I talked to Dr. Eric Bernicker, thoracic oncologist at Houston Methodist Cancer Center, to debunk a few common lung cancer myths. 

Myth:  If you’ve smoked for years, the damage is done.

Fact: It’s never too late to quit smoking. It will take many years, but smokers can decrease their lung cancer risk to the normal level by quitting now. According to the American Cancer Society, within five years of quitting smoking, the lung cancer death rate for the average former pack-a-day smoker decreases by almost half.

One of the simplest, most effective things you can do to reduce lung cancer risk is to quit smoking Click To Tweet

Myth: Low-tar or light cigarettes are safer.

Fact: There is no such thing as a safe cigarette. Smoking low-tar or light cigarettes bring the same lung cancer risks as “normal” cigarettes.

Myth: Only smokers are at risk of getting lung cancer.

Fact: While the risk is higher for smokers, there is still a possibility that non-smokers will develop lung cancer. “At least ten percent of lung cancers arise in non-smokers through mechanisms that we have not yet figured out,” explained Dr. Bernicker. If you are a non-smoker and you develop a persistent and unexplained cough, he recommends seeing your primary care physician to rule out lung cancer.

Myth: The new e-cigarettes are risk-free and don’t cause cancer.

Fact: Because the risks associated with the inhalation of vaporized chemicals are unknown, there is not enough information to support the claim that e-cigarettes are risk free. Most oncologists do not feel that e-cigs are a safe alternative to smoking or should be used to help a smoker quit. 

Myth: Being diagnosed with lung cancer is a death sentence.

Fact: While it is true that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality, early detection is the key to treating lung cancer. “We hope that an expanding use of CT screening will allow the detection of lung cancer at an early stage and make an improvement in lung cancer mortality. They also hope that advances in understanding the molecular biology and immunology of cancer will lead to significant improvements in treating advanced lung disease,” said Dr. Bernicker.  

Get more information on lung cancer via the Houston Methodist Cancer Center and check out our Lung Cancer Awareness Pinterest board.

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