Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of death. Everyone knows that tobacco use can have disastrous consequences on health. Nevertheless, many people decide to ignore the risk and go on smoking. According to WHO, tobacco smoke contains nicotine - which causes physical and psychological addiction to tobacco, 7,000 chemicals, over 250 toxic substances, and over 70 substances that can cause cancer. In addition, second hand smoke is also harmful especially for pregnant women, babies, and young children. If you are exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy, both you and your baby are being put at risk. Nonsmoking pregnant women who have been exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to have babies with health problems such as low birthweight, miscarriage, and intrauterine growth restriction.
Every year, there are 1.8 million people diagnosed with lung cancer all over the world. In Thailand, lung cancer is the 2nd most common cancer in male and the 4th in female. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death as it is extremely difficult to treat and usually found in advanced stage.
Smokers have a much higher risk of lung cancer than non-smokers, regardless of the type of cigarette they smoke. People who are second hand smokers are also at risk of lung cancer. Other risk factors of lung cancer include exposure to radon gas and asbestos, and a family history of lung cancer.
Before the invention of cigarette, lung cancer was a rare disease. After the mass production of tobacco products began, the incidence of lung cancer increased significantly. Cigarette tar contains most of the cancer-causing and other harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke. It is believed that if there is no cigarette, the incidence of lung cancer would be 80-90% less. However, in Asia or Thailand, 40-60% of lung cancer cases are caused by abnormality of the gene.
Besides lungs, smoking is also a risk factor for these types of cancer – breast, bladder, mouth, kidney, larynx, etc.
Lung cancer typically doesn't cause signs and symptoms in its earliest stages. Signs and symptoms of lung cancer typically occur only when the disease is advanced. Symptoms of lung cancer may include cough, shortness of breath, weight loss, fatigue, and bone pain. People with an increased risk of lung cancer may consider annual lung cancer screening using low-dose CT scans. People who are at higher risk are ones who smoke more than 30 pack year (It is calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years the person has smoked. For example, 30 pack year is equal to smoking 2 packs of cigarettes per day for 15 years.) Lung cancer screening can detect the disease in the early stage which is easier to treat.
If your doctor suspects lung cancer, a sample of abnormal cells may be removed in a procedure called a biopsy. Careful analysis of your cancer cells in a pathologist will reveal what type of lung cancer you have. CT-scan, PET/CT, and MRI are also useful in order to determine the stage of the disease and its treatment plan.
Treatment for early stage lung cancer includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The treatment plan depends on the patient’s overall health and the size and location of the tumor. If the disease is in advanced stage, the treatment includes chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy which is a revolutionized care for people with metastatic lung cancer.
Over the past 20 years, conventional treatment options for lung cancer including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation have been unlikely to result in complete cures, although they may have significantly improved survival rate and provided symptom relief. Lung cancer is still the leading cause of death globally. Therefore, there have been many funding opportunities for research focusing on treatment and cure of lung cancer. Despite advances in research of lung cancer treatment, it is still the leading cause of death worldwide.
For smokers, lung cancer screening is important to detect the disease early when it is easier to treat. However, it is never too late to stop smoking. With help and a good action plan, everyone can quit smoking for good. Make the right choice for your health and quit smoking now.
Reference: Dr. Potjana Jitawatanarat, a medical oncologist, Wattanosoth hospital – specialist hospital for cancer care at Bangkok hospital
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