Lung Cancer Awareness Month

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and I may be especially bias and sensitive to this health topic, being an intern at the American Lung Association in Hawai’i, but I believe this is a health topic so important and relevant to our community of young college women. I’ve spent a lot of time at my internship tabling and sharing these facts with many women working in healthcare and they always seem surprised to learn that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in women. Yes, move aside breast cancer (or at the very least, share some of your spotlight). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in women and men. Although we do see it slowly declining in men, it is slowly increasing with women and we’re not entirely sure why.

Risk Factors of Lung Cancer

There exists a type of stigma that often gets associated with lung cancer; most people assume that if you have lung cancer it is a result of being a smoker - but we’re learning that isn’t always the case. Secondhand smoke is by far more dangerous than firsthand smoke and that is because there isn’t any type of filter that protects us from the lit end of a cigarette. That being said, more harmful chemicals and carcinogens (cancer causing agents) are released through the lit end. There is NO safe level of exposure to cigarette smoking. Other risk factors mentioned on the American Lung Association website include: radon exposure, exposure to hazardous chemicals in the home or workplace, particle pollution in the air, and genes. If your family has a history of lung cancer, it may mean you’re at a higher risk of getting the disease.

Early Screening and Prevention

Arguably, the most important public health measure is prevention of health outcomes or illnesses. There are a few ways individuals can protect themselves against lung cancer.

1. Get your home checked for radon and other potentially hazardous chemicals or exposures. If you’re unsure how to check your home or who to contact, you can visit www.lung.org for more information and resources. Luckily here in Hawai’i, the majority of homes are radon free compared to the mainland USA.

2. Be cautious of where you work, where you spend your time and who you spend your time with. If you live with long-term or heavy smokers, encourage them to quit or at least keep the air at home clean and clear by smoking outside the home or in a designated area (preferably where you won’t be). If you live somewhere where there are high levels of air pollution or travel to areas like this, take necessary precautions to make sure you’re doing what you can to help yourself breathe. For example, you could incorporate plants in your home that naturally purify air, or you could wear a facemask when you travel.

3. Lastly, get SCREENED. Lung cancer screening can help catch lung cancer at an early stage when it’s most easiest to treat. That being said, it may not be right for everyone which is why you should speak to your medical provider or practitioner as soon as possible if you think you may be at a greater risk of getting lung cancer. At this time, low-dose CT scans are the only lung cancer screening tools that reduces the risk of dying.

The LUNG FORCE Initiative

The pink ribbon for breast cancer has been an amazing symbol and movement uniting men and women in the fight against breast cancer. Its symbol is very well-known and for good reason. At the American Lung Association, one of our current goals is to make the LUNG FORCE whoosh symbol as well-known. The LUNG FORCE Initiative unites women to stand together against lung cancer and for lung health. We want to change the narrative society may already have about lung cancer and really raise the voices of women who are especially affected by this disease. So I encourage all my strong female friends, family and peers to get the conversation going this National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and promote the health and well-being of our communities.

For more information about LUNG FORCE and the American Lung Association, you can visit their website: www.lung.org