It is estimated that ten percent of diagnosed cases of lung cancer (LC) are found in people who have never smoked a cigarette. This is a startling fact for those who thought themselves safe from the disease simply because they have always been nonsmokers. In reality, they are susceptible (though, less so). It is worth noting that one in five women who have LC have never smoked. It is unclear, however, whether this is due to a predisposition to the disease or environmental factors.
There are many ways in which non-smoking men and women can develop the disease. This article will describe the most common risk factors. We’ll then discuss the different forms of treatment available, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery.
Risk Factors And Potential Causes
Most people instinctively think the main cause of LC in nonsmokers is passive smoking (the inhalation of smoke expelled from other smokers). Passive smoking is responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths (due to lung cancer) each year. But other factors play a more significant role.
Radon gas is statistically more deadly than passive smoking. Approximately 20,000 victims succumb to it each year. The gas is produced by decaying uranium that lies in the soil. It seeps through cracks, pipes, and drains into people’s living quarters, exposing occupants. Those who smoke and are exposed to radon gas for prolonged periods are more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers.
Air pollution has yet to be accepted as a known risk factor, but experts strongly suspect it increases the likelihood of developing the disease. It is thought to be responsible for nearly 2,000 deaths each year, though this is difficult to verify.
Asbestos is responsible for a rare form of LC called mesothelioma. The material was commonly used in building materials – including insulation – many years ago. Though it has been banned since 1989, it is still present in older structures.
Chemotherapy Through Oral And Intravenous Drugs
Lung cancer spreads when the diseased cells rapidly multiply. They metastasize outside the original site within the affected lung. At that point, local treatments (e.g. radiation therapy and surgery) are no longer sufficient for killing the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is used as a systemic treatment.
Cytotoxic drugs are given orally or intravenously. The medications circulate through the body and target cells that divide more quickly than others. Chemotherapy is typically used as an adjunct to surgery, but may also be used by itself to prolong the patient’s life (in advanced cases).
Radiation Therapy For Killing Cancer Cells
As implied earlier, radiation therapy is used to target diseased cells in a specific location (as opposed to chemotherapy). The treatment uses x-rays to destroy parts of a cell’s DNA. Doing so will either kill the cell or stop it from dividing, which in turn prevents the cancer from spreading.
Treatment can either be done internally – called brachytherapy – or externally with a machine that directs high-powered x-rays. The latter approach is more common.
Surgery For Resolving Lung Cancer
If lung cancer is caught in its initial stages (prior to metastasis), surgery can be done to removed the diseased lung tissue. There are three main procedures. The difference between them is the amount of tissue removed.
A wedge resection is the removal of a small portion of diseased tissue along with a surrounding ring of healthy tissue. It is only done in the earliest stages.
A lobectomy is the removal of an entire lobe. Your right lung has three lobes and your left lung has two lobes. Both sides can function well following the removal of a lobe.
A pneumonectomy is the removal of an entire lung. This is typically done when the disease has spread throughout the organ. However, it is used as a last resort since removing the lung severely impairs your overall respiratory function.
In the past, most surgeries were performed by cutting directly into the chest and spreading the patient’s ribs. Today, the three surgeries described above – even a pneumonectomy – can be done with minimally invasive techniques. This, of course, assumes the pulmonary surgeon has received the proper training. Consult your physician to check whether this is the case.