While many cancers are a combination of genetics and lifestyle choices, lung cancer remains largely the result of prolonged tobacco use. While quitting cigarettes can cut the risk of developing cancer in half after 10 years, serious smokers -- even if they no longer smoke -- are at an elevated risk for developing lung cancer.
However, early detection and screening can help identify and treat harmful cancers before they become life-threatening. "Keep in mind that lung cancer screening not only detects early treatable lung cancers but can also detect abnormalities in other parts of the body such as the heart, aorta, thyroid, liver and kidneys," said Dr. Avraham D. Merav, a thoracic surgeon with Phelps Hospital Northwell Health.
"Generally, you qualify for an annual screening test if you’re between the ages of 55 and 80, and you’re either a current smoker or you’ve quit within the last 15 years, and you have a 30 pack-year history of smoking," said Dr. Merav. "This is equivalent to smoking a pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, or three packs a day for 10 years."
Sometimes lung cancer develops in people who have never smoked. A few people get lung cancer after being exposed to other harmful substances, including asbestos, radioactive dust, radon (a cancer-causing radioactive gas you cannot see, smell or taste) or radiation. Cancer may also be caused by gene changes (mutations) that occur as you get older.
While not all lung cancers can be prevented, there are things you can do that might lower your risk. “Don’t smoke, stop smoking immediately if you do and avoid second-hand smoke,” said Dr. Merav. In short, eliminating all exposure to tobacco products will significantly reduce your risk of getting lung cancer.
Lung cancer remains a serious disease. If you or someone you know receives a cancer diagnosis take time to process your feelings, create a support team and learn about your condition.
For more information on the cancer services offered by Phelps Hospital, a member of Northwell Health, click here.