As we get ready to turn our calendars to December, we reflect on the passing month of November, and its designation as Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout this past month, advocacy groups and organizations have pushed to raise awareness and educate readers en masse about the deadly illness. As the leading cause of death from all cancers, lung cancer remains a tough battle to fight for patients. According to the CDC, lung cancer affects 215,951 people in the United States, with nearly 75% of all patients succumbing to their illness. It is important during the month of November to not only to focus on lung cancer, but on respiratory illness as whole – such as COPD and mesothelioma.

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer can refer to both small-cell and non-small cell lung carcinoma, which is characterized by the uncontrollable growth of cells in the lung tissue. While tobacco smoking and secondhand smoke are by-and-large the primary causes of the disease, heredity and environmental factors can also contribute to the diagnosis. Radon, a radioactive gas found in the soil, and other airborne pollutants, like arsenic and diesel exhaust, are also known causes.

The symptoms of lung cancer are chest tightness, shortness of breath, chronic cough, coughing up blood, and fatigue. Once a biopsy is performed and the cancer is officially diagnosed, patients can expect to undergo a regimen of advanced treatment, but there remains no definitive cure. It is important to note that prognosis varies highly based on the stage of the cancer—which generally dictates the type of treatment a patient can expect to receive. Currently, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, and surgical removal of tissue are the most prevalent forms of care.

Advanced Respiratory Illness

While the awareness of lung cancer is widely known, many other serious illnesses lack cognizance. Two of the most rampant respiratory diseases aside from lung cancer are Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, commonly known as COPD, and mesothelioma. COPD is an umbrella term for several different ailments, the most common being emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Like lung cancer, COPD is most commonly caused by smoking, but many environmental hazards can cause the illness. Air quality issues, such as pollution and chemical fumes, can cause the disease. There is no cure for COPD, and most patients are faced with progression of the illness as they age, many times causing death.

The exposure to asbestos, a silicate mineral formerly used in construction, has also proven to be extremely dangerous to human health. The material is known to break and fragment, creating small particle dust that is inhaled. Once inhaled, the accumulation of asbestos dust settles in the lining of the organs indefinitely, where it can begin to cause illness. Asbestos is most commonly linked to mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer. Mesothelioma most commonly affects the lining of the lungs, but can also affect other areas of the body. Prognosis for the disease is very poor, as most patients are faced with 12-21 months of life expectancy. Treatment of the disease generally consists of a combination of radiation, chemotherapy, and sometimes, surgical removal of the affected area.

How to Promote Wellness

While lung cancer, COPD, and mesothelioma all pose very serious health risks, there are steps we can take to continue to maintain health and wellness. The most important step to take to ensure lung health is to stop smoking today. Tobacco smoke accounts for 85% of all lung cancer diagnoses, and can greatly exacerbate the severity of any other lung disease. Steps to ensure respiratory safety on the job site, especially for construction workers, can greatly reduce the chances of exposure to carcinogens. Buildings constructed before 1980 in the United States run the risk of asbestos contamination; if you suspect your home may contain asbestos, do not remove it yourself – use a licensed professional. Above all, a continued healthy lifestyle and exercise can safeguard your well-being, and keep you at your best for years to come.

Shawn Tallet

Shawn Tallet is a New York-based health advocate focused on raising awareness about the dangers of asbestos.

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