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Tobacco and Lung Cancer
Could Your Dreams Go Up in Smoke?

Byron was 15 when his friends urged him to try a cigarette. At first he was reluctant – he thought about the film his class had watched about smoking and the image of a black, diseased smokerís lung compared to a pink, healthy nonsmoker's lung. But the pressure to be cool and fit in was too much, and Byron took his first puff. Now at age 53, Byron is a chain smoker with breathing problems. And to make matters worse, Byronís doctor just gave him some unsettling news: There's a suspicious spot on one of his lungs – a spot that could be cancer.

Lung cancer is the No. 1 lethal cancer of men and women, and more Americans die each year from lung cancer than from breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined. Sadly, the majority of these deaths could have been prevented, because nearly 90 percent of lung cancers are tobacco-related.

Who's at Risk?
"It's no surprise that smokers are at greatest risk of developing lung cancer, but nonsmokers can get lung cancer too, especially those who are exposed to secondhand smoke," says Mauricio A. Reinoso, M.D., pulmonologist on staff at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital. The American Cancer Society estimates about 162,460 people died from lung cancer in 2006. And the American Lung Association reports that 3,400 lung cancer deaths are caused by secondhand smoke each year.

Playing with Fire
Cigarettes and secondhand smoke contain a number of chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic (cancer-causing), including carbon monoxide, arsenic, ammonia and formaldehyde. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and reduces the health of smokers in general. Smoking contributes to a wide range of health problems, including respiratory tract infections, heart disease, stroke, infertility and low bone density. In addition to lung cancer, smokers are more likely to have cancer of the bladder, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, kidney, pancreas and stomach.

"Lung cancer has a high death rate because it typically does not produce symptoms until the cancer is advanced and more difficult to treat," says Dr. Reinoso. Nearly 60 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer die within one year of their diagnosis. There are two types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common and spreads to the body more slowly than small cell lung cancer. Treatment options depend on the type of cancer and if it has spread. Surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be used for treatment.

Prevention Is the Best Medicine
Never smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke are the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from developing lung cancer. If you smoke, quit. It may be difficult, but there are resources to help you. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs or visit www.smokefree.gov or the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org for educational information and support to help you quit for good.

Signs of Lung Cancer

Dr. Reinoso identifies the following as possible signs of lung cancer:
  • A cough that does not go away
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing up bloody mucus
  • Hoarseness
  • Many lung infections, such as pneumonia
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

Early detection of lung cancer significantly increases survival rates.