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Understanding the key facts on smoking and lung cancer

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. The London Tobacco Alliance brings you up to speed with the facts about smoking and lung cancer.

With Lung Cancer Awareness Month falling in November, the London Tobacco Alliance has pulled together an in-depth article to bring you the facts on smoking and lung cancer. Raising awareness of lung cancer symptoms can help guide Londoners to smoking cessation services.

Lung Cancer Awareness Month is a public health campaign created to encourage people who may be displaying common symptoms of lung cancer, such as a persistent cough, breathlessness or unexplained weight loss, to visit their GP immediately.

Usually, throughout November, lung cancer survivors share their stories highlighting their experience with the disease, bereaved family members discuss the devastating effect of the condition and medical experts offer insight into available treatments and the support options available. 

Early diagnosis of lung cancer is key to boosting survival rates, yet few people are taking their symptoms seriously until it is too late.

Understanding the facts surrounding lung cancer

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK. Around 46,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year with 35,000 people losing their lives to the disease. It is the most common cause of death from cancer for both men and women. 

Roughly 9 out of 10 people who get lung cancer (90%) are smokers or ex-smokers.  People who begin smoking at a younger age increase their risk of getting lung cancer. In the UK, 72% of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. 

While it is still possible for people who do not smoke can still develop lung cancer from second-hand smoke and poisonous chemicals, those who are non-smokers have a significantly lower risk of developing lung cancer.

What is lung cancer

Lung cancer is a disease that causes abnormal cells to divide uncontrollably and create more abnormal cells. This ultimately leads to a tumour forming in the lung.

The two main types of lung cancer that are most diagnosed in people are:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

Occasionally, cancer can spread to the lungs from someplace else in the body. This is called lung metastases or secondary lung cancer.

The main symptoms of lung cancer

It’s important to note that there are several signs and symptoms linked to lung cancer that appear with less serious conditions and diseases. 

However, most lung cancer cases are diagnosed after the disease has spread, meaning the time for an effective prognosis and therefore, undergoing viable treatment options is reduced.   

The main symptoms of lung cancer include: 

  • a cough that won’t go away
  • repeated chest infections, or chest infections that won’t go away
  • coughing up blood
  • breathlessness 
  • unexplained weight loss 
  • a loss of appetite
  • chest and/or shoulder pain
  • feeling tired and a lack of energy

If you are concerned about signs of lung cancer or notice anything that is unusual from your daily self, contact your GP immediately.

For further information on lung cancer symptoms, visit Macmillan Cancer Support.

Avoiding lung cancer

Put simply, the easiest way to prevent lung cancer is to avoid smoking cigarettes and for those who do smoke, quit as soon as possible. Lung cancer claims more deaths in the UK compared to any other form of cancer. 

Inhaling second-hand smoke is known to cause lung cancer, even in adults who have never smoked before. People exposed to second-hand smoke (cigarettes, pipes or cigars) at home, the workplace or in their social lives increase their risk of developing lung cancer by as much as 30%. 

Asbestos is a carcinogenic material that was previously used in the building industry. Now outdated, people who have been in prolonged or close contact with asbestos have a higher risk of getting lung cancer.

Other toxic substances known to increase the risk of lung cancer include arsenic, diesel fumes and silica.

Need help quitting smoking?

It’s widely known that nicotine is an addictive substance found in cigarettes. Nicotine causes a powerful addiction in the brain and although relatively harmless when consumed, the debilitating illnesses and diseases caused by smoking originate from the thousands of other toxic chemicals in tobacco and cigarettes. 

Studies have shown that smokers are three times more likely to quit smoking with the right support. The best chance of stopping is with a combination of personalised support and stop smoking aids such as nicotine replacement, e-cigarettes, or medication.

NRT, or nicotine replacement therapy such as patches, sprays and gum, are great sources of nicotine and are scientifically proven to be extremely effective in helping a smoker to stop. 

For help to stop smoking, speak to your Local Stop Smoking Service, GP or pharmacist, or call the Stop Smoking helpline for free on 0300 123 1044.

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