When Dana Reeve announced she was being treated for lung cancer, the media were quick to report that the actress insisted she had never been a smoker. Despite treatment, the 44-year-old widow of actor Christopher Reeve died in 2006.
Lung cancer is a vicious killer. It causes more deaths in the United States – for both men and women – than any other type of cancer.
For individuals who never used tobacco, the cause of the disease remains a mystery. However, 90 percent of its victims can attribute the illness to smoking, according to the Mayo Clinic. This figure includes both smokers and those who inhaled second-hand smoke.
The apparent origin of this type of malignancy is the cells lining the lungs. Damage to the tissue starts almost as soon as an individual inhales smoke. Over time, the body loses its ability to repair the destructive tissue changes. Once the cells begin to function in an abnormal way, cancer is a possibility and often a probability.
The lung is one of the worst places to get cancer. This is because each one contains many blood vessels as well as lymph vessels. This affords malignant cells the perfect pathway to journey to other areas of the body. As a result, it’s very possible that the cancer has spread before patients or the doctors note any symptoms of the disease.
Researchers are suspicious that a number of factors can put an individual at direct or indirect risk for developing lung cancer.
Smoking. It’s the number one cause. The risk factor increases in direct proportion to the number of cigarettes per day and the number of years a person remains a smoker. Quitting at any point can cause the risk of contracting cancer to plummet.
Sex of the Individual. If a woman is a smoker or used to be, she remains at higher risk for a lung malignancy than a male with the same history. Researchers postulate that women are more sensitive to the carcinogens in tobacco. Some track the risk to the presence of estrogen or the fact that women as a group inhale more often than men do.
Secondhand Smoke. An increased risk of lung cancer has been noted even when the individual exposed isn’t a smoker.
Radon Gas. Some studies point to exposure to radon gas as an increased risk. Radon is released into the air after uranium breaks down in various substances. While the gas can be found in many buildings, the most significant exposure for many people is in their homes.
Other Chemicals. The chief offenders appear to be asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel and tar soot. All of them are known carcinogens. Any of them can elevate the risk of developing lung cancer.
Genetics. Those with a family history of this disease are at elevated risk for it if the individual who became ill was a parent, sibling or other first-degree relative such as an aunt or uncle.
Alcohol. Excessive use of alcohol raises the risk of lung cancer. This means more than a drink a day for women or two for men.