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Posted: May 15, 2009

Keeping Seniors Healthy

Smoking Is Not the Only Cause of Lung Cancer

Q. Is cigarette smoke the only cause of lung cancer? I know how dangerous this disease is, so I want to know as much about it as possible.

A. No, radon and asbestos are causes, too. Radon is an invisible, odorless, and radioactive gas that occurs naturally in soil and rocks. Asbestos has been used for fireproofing, electrical insulation, building materials, brake linings, and chemical filters.

But cigarette smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. Before cigarette smoking became popular in the early part of the 20th century, doctors rarely saw patients with lung cancer. Nearly 90% of people with lung cancer developed it because they smoked cigarettes.

The good news is that smoking is not as popular as it used to be. In 1965, about 42% of all adults smoked, but by 1997 only 25% did. Also, there has been a sharp drop in lung cancer deaths among men, mainly because fewer men are smoking.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. It occurs most often between the ages of 55 and 65.

Common symptoms of lung cancer include: a persistent cough that worsens, constant chest pain, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness, repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis, swelling of the neck and face, loss of appetite or weight loss, and fatigue.

If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to check with a doctor immediately. If tests show that you have cancer, you should make treatment decisions as soon as possible. Studies show that early treatment leads to better outcomes.

The standard treatments for lung cancer are surgery to remove a tumor, chemotherapy with anti-cancer drugs, radiation to kill cancer cells, and photodynamic therapy, a newer technique that uses a laser with a chemical to kill cancer cells.

There are two major types of lung cancer -- non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Each type of lung cancer grows and spreads in different ways, and each is treated differently.

Non-small cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer. Doctors treat patients with non-small cell lung cancer in several ways. Surgery is a common treatment. Cryosurgery, a treatment that freezes and destroys cancer tissue, may be used to control symptoms in the later stages of non-small cell lung cancer. Doctors may also use radiation therapy and chemotherapy to slow the progress of the disease and to manage symptoms.

Small cell lung cancer grows more quickly and is more likely to spread to other organs in the body. In many cases, cancer cells have already spread to other parts of the body when the disease is diagnosed. In order to reach cancer cells throughout the body, doctors almost always use chemotherapy.

Treatment for small cell lung cancer may also include radiation therapy aimed at the tumor in the lung or tumors in other parts of the body, such as in the brain. Surgery is part of the treatment plan for a small number of patients with small cell lung cancer.

Some patients with small cell lung cancer have radiation therapy to the brain even though no cancer is found there. This treatment is given to prevent tumors from forming in the brain.


Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at fred@healthygeezer.com.

© 2009 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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