Ask a Doctor column: Lung cancer affects more than smokers

Posted by Samantha Powell on November 22nd, 2013 |

News Headline: Ask a Doctor column: Lung cancer affects more than smokers
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Wisconsin Rapids Tribune
Mindy Gribble

Question: Is it true that only smokers get lung cancer?

Answer: It’s really not true at all. It’s one of the myths about lung cancer that I’d like to address during November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Researchers say a surprising number of Americans believe many unproven claims about lung cancer. Consider being part of setting the record straight by sharing these “myth busters”:

Myth: Only smokers get lung cancer.

Fact: About 60 percent of all new lung cancer cases are among people who have never smoked. Other causes of lung cancer include radiation, asbestos, second-hand smoke, radon and air pollution. Sadly, because smoking is a strong risk factor, it is often assumed that people diagnosed with lung cancer somehow deserve it because of their own “bad” behavior.

Myth: More women die from breast cancer than from lung cancer.

Fact: More women die from lung cancer every year than any other form of cancer. It is believed the stigma associated with lung cancer has resulted in lower levels in research funding. For every woman who dies of breast cancer, more than $26,000 in federal funding is devoted to breast cancer research. But for every woman who dies of lung cancer, just over $1,000 is invested.

Myth: Switching to “light” cigarettes will cut my risk.

Fact: “Smokers who switch to brands labeled “light” or “mild” inevitably compensate for the lower levels of tar and nicotine by inhaling smoke more deeply or by smoking more of each cigarette,” says Michael C. Fiore, M.D., director of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Myth: Electronic cigarettes are a safe way to light up.

Fact: The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about potential health risks associated with electronic cigarettes after finding variable amounts of nicotine and traces of toxic chemicals, including known cancer-causing substances in two popular brands.

Myth: I tried quitting once and failed, so it’s no use trying again.

Fact: Most smokers try several times before quitting for good. “Each time people quit, they learn things that could be useful for their next attempt at quitting,” says Ann M. Malarcher, Ph.D., from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whether you are a smoker thinking of quitting, or know someone else who is ready to quit, please consider the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line, 800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669). The Quit Line is available 24 hours a day, every day and offers free medications and live phone coaching.

Mindy Gribble is the WINGS Survivorship Program coordinator for Marshfield Clinic. This column provides health information and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for care from your health care provider.

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