In 2018, lung cancer remains to be the most fatal cancer in the United States, contributing to more than 150,000 deaths each year. But despite its prevalence, there are misconceptions about the disease that keep people from getting screened and accessing treatment early. Here, we get to the truth behind popular lung cancer myths and separate fact from fiction once and for all.
Myth #1: Only smokers develop lung cancer.
While smokers do have a significantly higher chance of having the disease, nonsmokers aren’t completely immune to it. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 20 percent of people who die of lung cancer yearly do not smoke or use tobacco products. Radon exposure is believed to be a major preventable cause of lung cancer. Other risk factors include genetic predisposition, occupational or environmental exposures, and secondhand smoke.
Studies reveal that Asian women who were never smokers are still at risk because of oncogenic mutations, often involving EGFR. Of the 30 percent of Asians that have lung cancer and were never-smokers, 50 percent are East Asian females. Scientists are currently looking into biomarkers that could catch cancers before they progress to late-stage tumors, even in nonsmokers.
Myth #2: Quitting smoking is pointless once you’ve been diagnosed with the disease.
Research shows that tobacco cessation could still improve overall lung cancer survival. No matter the stage of the diagnosis, your body can still benefit when you stop smoking. In addition, people who quit prior to surgery expect better results than those who don’t.
Mounting evidence shows that the outcomes of operating on non-smokers vs. smokers can vary immensely. Patients who continue to use tobacco products are more likely to have problems after surgery, such as having to be admitted to the ICU or needing a ventilator. Physicians highly recommend quitting smoking prior to an operation. For patients who were lucky to survive their first diagnosis, going back to smoking may increase their chance of developing second lung cancer.
Myth #3: More women die of breast cancer than lung cancer.
According to ACS, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the U.S. In fact, this disease kills more people than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. Although there are more women in the U.S. who are diagnosed with breast cancer, lung cancer remains to be the top killer for this population.
That said, having this disease is not a guaranteed death sentence. There are many ways to treat lung cancer and prolong the patient’s life. Greater awareness of symptoms and appropriate screening tests also play a crucial role in bringing the number of deaths down drastically.
Myth #4: Switching to e-cigarettes after a lung cancer diagnosis will prevent recurrence.
Many brands of e-cigarettes contain carcinogens that increase one’s risk of developing lung cancer. Vapes heat up nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. This solution turns into a vapor which you inhale and introduce into your bloodstream. Hazardous substances like formaldehyde, heavy metals, and particles that get stuck into your lungs are commonly found in these electronic cigarettes.
It’s difficult to pinpoint just how much of these chemicals you breathe when you vape, but the levels are usually lower compared to smoking regular tobacco. However, some reports show that high-voltage vapes have more formaldehyde and other toxins than the standard ones.
Myth #5: A clear screening test means you can keep smoking.
Remember that having a clear scan doesn’t entail you can keep smoking. Every day that you don’t smoke, you decrease your likelihood of developing lung cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says that people who get screened are those who are current smokers or have quit within the last 15 years, are between the ages of 55 and 80, and those who smoke an equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.
If you meet the criteria, be sure to ask your doctor about the right screening procedure for you. Tests generally should be done with a low-dose chest CT scan as opposed to x-ray. Having an x-ray is not enough to detect early-stage tumors. Meanwhile, a study found out that those who received a low-dose CT scan three years in a row had a 20 percent lower risk of dying of the disease.
Myth #6: You won’t be able to do normal activities while undergoing treatment.
Lung cancer therapy doesn’t always require long hospital stays. For example, you may have your chemotherapy at an outpatient facility near your home, as long as the prescribed type and dose comes from a designated cancer that specializes in lung cancer treatment. There are also chemo systems you can use at home, depending on the insurance coverage and type of lung cancer. Hospital admission is more common for those who have more severe illness.
Patients are encouraged to continue enjoyable, healthy activities while being treated. Socializing and exercising are extremely important aspects of recovery. The goal of treatment is to get patients back to the life they had before diagnosis.
Myth #7: Older adults don’t have options for lung cancer treatment.
Chronological age alone is not a determining factor for one’s survivability. It appears that the young at heart are often able to tolerate chemotherapy as well as their younger counterparts. They can also enjoy a normal quality of life after surgery.
When questioned about surgery, 50 percent of elderly patients placed a greater priority on survival than on symptom relief. Even if you are beyond a certain age, you have the option to go for aggressive treatment rather than supportive care. If you are over 70 or 80 years old with lung cancer, keep in mind that how you act and feel are probably much more important than the age you fill in on your medical records.
Myths about lung cancer could be dangerous and may give people the wrong idea about getting screened or going through treatment. If you have concerns about your health, be sure to consult your doctor and get factual medical advice.