As the year winds down, we march into November – the month that promotes lung cancer awareness. The importance of learning more about the disease has never been more compelling than now with over 90,000 men and 79,000 women diagnosed each year with cancer of the lungs and bronchi in India.
Misdiagnosis, where the symptoms are often attributed to asthma or tuberculosis, and also the ability of the disease to lie dormant for as many as 20 years and manifest itself at an advanced stage makes the survival rate for lung cancer the lowest among all forms of cancer.
The importance of awareness is evident from the fact that in highly literate Kerala, 40% cases are detected early, and result in fewer deaths.
Lung Cancer Causes
- Smoking: It is listed as the number one cause of lung cancer and attributes to 90% of the cases.
- Exposure to radon: Radon exposure comes in as a distant second. Radon is an odourless, colourless, radioactive gas. It is a by-product of uranium decay and occurs naturally in soil and rocks. Radon present in soil and rock can also move into the air and seep into underground water as well as surface water. It can be found at higher levels in the air in buildings. Children and adults suffer most exposure to radon indoors in schools, homes, offices, and other buildings.
- Exposure to uranium, coke and asbestos: This can occur as a result of occupational exposure and can also lead to lung cancer.
- Air pollution: It attributes to 1-2% of lung cancer cases.
Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer
The symptoms for lung cancer are often mistaken/misdiagnosed as those for asthma or tuberculosis. As many as 85% of lung cancer cases are not detected at an early stage, and as in the case of many diseases, early detection is critical for treatment. So here are a list of common symptoms to watch out for:
- Cough – especially when it persists for 3 weeks or more
- Coughing up blood
- Constant chest infection along with pain in chest or shoulders
- Shortness of breath
- Any changes in your voice
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
Symptoms of Lung Cancer Due to Smoking and Tobacco Abuse
The public service messages in cinema halls and public spaces focus on the dangers inherent in tobacco products owing to their adverse health effects. For smokers and tobacco users, symptoms that warrant immediate medical attention include:
- Chest pain
- Persistent cough or coughing up blood
- Frequent colds and upper respiratory infections
- Hoarseness of voice
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty or pain while swallowing
- Sudden weakness on one side of the face or body
- Leg pain while walking that goes away when at rest
- Persistent abdominal pain
- Blood in the urine
- Unexplained weight loss
- Change in exercise capacity
Pledging to Stay Healthy
This November, pledge to stay healthy, pledge to stay aware. Here are a few things you can do:
- Quit smoking and using tobacco products
- Exercise regularly and walk as often as you can – it’s good for your heart and lungs
- Focus on a healthy diet
- Wear masks in polluted areas
- Ensure regular health check-ups