George Krucik, MD, MBA
Lung cancer is responsible for more cancer deaths than any other type of cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s why it’s so important to understand lung cancer and how it affects your body.
The Effects of Lung Cancer
Your lungs are part of a system of organs and tissues that allow you to breathe. They perform this role by taking air into your body and then moving waste gases back out. When you have lung cancer, abnormal (or “malignant”) cells form a cancerous tumor in your lungs. These cancer cells begin to damage and destroy your lung tissue.
Malignant lung tumors may grow very quickly. The American Lung Association (ALA) notes that the uncontrollable growth of a tumor may block your airways, making it difficult to breathe.
What’s more, sometimes cancerous tumors may spread from one part of your body to another. This happens when a tumor sheds malignant cells, which may then be transported to other parts of your body. The cell may be carried either through lymph fluid that surrounds your lung tissue or through your bloodstream.
What Causes Lung Cancer?
The Mayo Clinic reports that smokers have the highest risk of developing lung cancer. Your risk depends on both how many cigarettes you’ve smoked and how long you’ve been a smoker.
Nearly 90 percent of lung cancer is caused by smoking, according to the ALA. However, the organization notes that it’s possible for anyone to get lung cancer, since the condition occurs when cells in the lungs change or mutate.
Lung cells may mutate into cancerous cells when you breathe in toxic chemicals such as those in cigarettes over long periods of time. However, there are other ways you may be exposed to toxins, as well:
• Pollution. The air we breathe contains particles that may be hazardous. Research noted by the ALA suggests that particle pollution may boost the risk of developing lung cancer, as well as other conditions, like heart disease and asthma. Exhaust smoke from cars is one form of this pollution.
• Certain chemicals. Being exposed to hazardous chemicals may significantly increase your risk of lung cancer. These materials include:
o Petroleum (some products)
• Radon. The ALA lists radon gas as the number-two cause of lung cancer, just behind smoking. Radon is a radioactive gas that’s found in dirt. It can enter your home or other buildings through cracks. It is important to have radon
levels checked in your house if you did not when you moved in.
Even if you don’t smoke and have limited exposure to toxins, it’s still possible to have an elevated risk of lung cancer. The ALA notes that certain gene mutations may play a role in lung cancer development. It’s important to check your family history for lung cancer to determine whether genetic factors could put you at risk.