Lung cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. According to the World Health Organization, 1.8 million individuals lost their lives to lung cancer in 2020. That’s nearly twice as many deaths as the second most deadly cancer.
“Here in New York and across the nation, lung cancer is the leading cancer killer. It is estimated that in 2021, 13,950 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer and 6,860 will die from the disease,” said Kaelyn Gates, development director at the Lung Association in Western New York. “However, there is hope. The five-year survival rate has increased 33% in the past 10 years thanks to advancements in treatment, research and lifesaving lung cancer screening.”
November is “Lung Cancer Awareness” month.
Though many cancers are caused by factors beyond individuals’ control, that’s not the case with lung cancer. In fact, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America notes that the vast majority of lung cancer cases are linked to lifestyle risk factors that, if avoided, could greatly reduce the number of lung cancer deaths.
n Tobacco use: The CTCA notes that smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars is linked to more than 80% of all lung cancers. An individual can greatly reduce his or her risk of developing lung cancer by avoiding tobacco entirely. Individuals who already smoke can stop and, depending on their age, significantly reduce their risk for lung cancer. A 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that quitting smoking before age 40 reduces a smoker’s chance of premature death from a smoking-related illness by 90%.
n Secondhand smoke: Perhaps the most tragic part of smoking and its relation to lung cancer is the impact it has on nonsmokers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that nonsmokers who are exposed to smoke at home or at work are at a 20 to 30% higher risk of developing lung cancer, even though they don’t smoke. The CDC estimates that more than 7,000 nonsmokers die from lung cancer each year due to secondhand smoke exposure. Nonsmokers can insist that no one smoke in their homes or on their properties, and individuals who smoke can commit to quitting or only smoke when far away from other people.
n Radon: Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless gas and a known carcinogen. Radon forms from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water and circulates into the air you breathe.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers. Though exposure to radon gas is not a lifestyle choice like the decision to smoke tobacco, individuals can take steps to ensure they aren’t exposed. Radon testing kits are available at most home goods retailers, though which kits individuals choose is important. A 2019 study from researchers at the University of Calgary found that short-term kits were imprecise 99% of the time. Long-term testing kits take readings within the home for 90 days or more. The long-term kits are more effective because radon levels can fluctuate considerably from day-to-day, so the longer testing period is likely to give a more accurate reading on radon levels than the short-term kit. The New Jersey Bureau of Environmental Radiation urges individuals to test their homes for radon every two years.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Livingston County is one of many counties in New York State considered to have a high potential for high radon levels.
An estimated 1 in 15 homes in the U.S. have high radon levels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you take action to reduce your home’s indoor radon levels if your radon test result is 4 pCi/L (pico curies per liter) or higher.
Among homes tested in the GLOW region in 2020, the state health department reports:
n Genesee County: The average first-floor indoor level was 4.19 among 316 homes tested, and basement level was 7.58 among 866 homes tested.
n Livingston County: The average first-floor indoor level was 4.69 among 1,351 homes tested, and basement level was 8.01 among 1,010 homes tested.
n Orleans County: The average first-floor indoor level was 1.36 among 81 homes tested, and basement level was 3.6 among 521 homes tested.
n Wyoming County: The average first-floor indoor level was 3.32 among 240 homes tested, and basement level was 9.53 among 557 homes tested.
Livingston County residents may contact the Livingston County Center for Environmental Health at (585) 243-7280.
Inexpensive radon test kits can be purchased at hardware stores.
n Workplace exposures: The CTCA notes that inhaling industrial or workplace chemicals or minerals like asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot, or tar over time can increase lung cancer risk. Workers can reduce workplace exposure by adhering to safety mandates like mask-wearing and other protocols designed to keep them healthy and safe.
Lung cancer is one of the most deadly diseases in the world. However, deaths by lung cancer can be greatly reduced when individuals make certain lifestyle choices.