Let’s start with the numbers.
Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in the U.S. for men and women. One in 14 Americans will get lung cancer, and it kills more people than breast, prostate and colorectal cancer and leukemia combined. It kills more than twice as many men than prostate cancer and almost twice as many women as breast cancer. Lung cancer accounts for about 14 percent of all new cancer diagnoses and 27 percent of all cancer deaths.
These numbers are stunning. So why do we hear so little about this cancer?
Perhaps it is, in part, because fewer people survive lung cancer to organize the marches, wear the ribbons and buy the products that donate part of the proceeds to much needed research. In 2011, an estimated 221,130 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer, and nearly 157,000 will die of the disease. And this year, in Illinois alone, it is estimated 9,210 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed, and there will be an estimated 6,420 cancer deaths from this disease. There are far too many people affected by this disease and far too few survivors to talk about it.
Another impediment to discussion may be the stigma attached to lung cancer. How many of us have been told someone has lung cancer and responded reflexively, “Did they smoke?” It’s true, people who smoke and those exposed to second-hand smoke are at higher risk for lung cancer. Not just smokers get lung cancer, and no one deserves to get cancer. No one.
About 65 percent of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or quit decades ago. Risk factors for nonsmokers include exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution; exposure to certain toxic substances such as asbestos, arsenic or radon; jobs that expose workers to radiation; and personal or family histories of lung cancer. Clearly, lung cancer is not just a smoker’s disease.
What steps can we take to prevent this disease? Avoiding tobacco use remains at the top of the prevention list. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quit. Get help if you need it. If you are a smoker or former smoker, early detection is key to reducing lung cancer’s death rate. Stay away from second-hand smoke. Work to make your home and community smoke free. Check your home for radon. Take care of yourself. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and be physically active. If you are at risk for lung cancer, talk to your health care professional about available screenings.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness month. Let’s make sure people know the facts about lung cancer, take steps to prevent it and help it get the attention, resources and research needed to improve understanding and treatment of America’s No. 1 cancer killer. For more information, go to www.preventcancer.org.
• Freda Manzullo is a cancer survivor, a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation and the spouse of U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Egan.