Lung cancer

12 November 2012

Lung cancer affects non-smokers too

Lung cancer kills more people than breast, colon, kidney, liver, skin and prostate cancers combined but should you think that it's a disease that only affects smokers, read on.


Lung cancer kills more people than breast, colon, kidney, liver, skin cancer and prostate, cancers combined but should you think that it’s a disease that only affects smokers, Gideon van der Spuy can tell you otherwise. 

 “If I’ve smoked three whole cigarettes in my life that is a lot. I’m one of the unfortunate people who develop lung cancer who aren’t smokers or who have never fitted the typical lung cancer profile,” says Gideon, who is a medical doctor by profession.

Gideon was diagnosed with stage three adenosquamous carcinoma which metastasised to his rib in August last year. Although he’s from the medical fraternity, he was “devastated” as he never thought he’d get the disease! He wasn’t a smoker, there was no family history and he lived a healthy lifestyle as an avid canoeist, cyclist and golfer. The disease has changed his life and affected his work, so much so that he decided to go on early retirement.

“When you’re a doctor, you are always on the go. Your life becomes about work and you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about life and you neglect your personal life. Now I have that time,” says Gideon.

He has since undergone a lobectomy, chemotherapy treatment, radiation and biological therapy and is still on maintenance therapy that helps keep the cancer from coming back after the initial treatment.

Women also affected

Many people associate lung cancer with smoking but this is not the sole cause. According to research, as many as 25% of people with lung cancer have never smoked. So, although there is a direct correlation between being a smoker and developing lung cancer, being a non-smoker doesn’t put you out of harms way. Furthermore, research has shown that lung cancer is no longer a male-dominated disease – there has been a large increase in the number of women who are developing this type of cancer as well.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death globally and is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in Southern Africa. 1.18 million people pass away each year because of this disease. Despite this, the majority of patients with lung cancer are diagnosed when the disease is at an advanced stage and has spread to other parts of the body. Showing just how essential early detection is!

Lung cancer is one of the worst cancers to be diagnosed with, simply because by the time symptoms are experienced the cancer has usually spread too far to be cured.  But it is also one of the most preventable. Just by changing a few lifestyle choices, you are able to avoid developing lung cancer.

'Wear your lung on your sleeve'

To address this need for enhanced awareness, Be Cancer Aware, the South African cancer information hub, has launched their "Wear your lung of your sleeve" initiative for Lung Cancer Awareness Month – an annual campaign which takes place in November.

Modelled on the phrase, "wear your heart on your sleeve", the initiative also encourages people to do their bit to go out and create awareness, even if to just inform a friend, post something about lung cancer symptoms on their Facebook page or talk about it within one’s own family.

By educating the public about this disease, along with the exciting advances in new treatments, we can start turning the tables on this type of cancer. New treatments, such as biological treatments, can help patients live longer and improve their quality of life. By providing information on lung cancer, patients will have a more informed and optimistic outlook upon diagnosis.

Help do something for Lung Cancer Awareness Month this November and spread the word by wearing your lung on your sleeve.  You can order a lung cancer awareness arm band from the Be Cancer Aware website. Proceeds go to furthering lung cancer awareness.

About lung cancer

Lung cancer is caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells inside the lung. There are two main forms of the disease – non-small cell lung cancer (otherwise known as NSCLC) and small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) and they are differentiated based on the size of the predominant tumour.

Small-cell lung cancer is highly aggressive and tends to metastasise (spread to other organs and tissues within the body) early in the disease process. Non-small cell lung cancer, on the other hand, is the most common form of the disease and doesn’t have any specific symptoms. This means that it is usually only diagnosed once it has become advanced.

In both cases, symptoms include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, coughing up phlegm or blood, aches or pains when breathing or coughing, loss of appetite and fatigue.

Diagnosing lung cancer can be a complicated process. Patients will usually undergo a combination of exams to determine the diagnosis. Tests include blood analysis, X-rays (to detect the enlarged lymph nodes), CT scans (to confirm the size and spread of the tumour) MRIs (to determine location and extent of the spread) and bone scans (to make sure the tumour hasn’t metastasised to the bone).

With this in mind, it’s important to remember that treatment does exist, which can improve the outcome and survival rates for patients. But remission is directly related to at what stage the cancer was diagnosed. So this means the earlier the cancer is found, the better the outcome. Treatment includes chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, surgery, and biological therapy.

 Be Cancer Aware press release

- (Health24, November 2012)

Read more:

Non-smokers get lung cancer too
With lung cancer, quitters do better than smokers


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