Lung cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, causing more deaths than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 235,760 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021, and around 131,880 people will die from the disease. While smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, it’s not the only risk factor. Exposure to radon, air pollution, and secondhand smoke can also increase your chances of developing lung cancer. The good news is that there are steps you can take to lower your risk. In this post, we’ll discuss 10 actionable steps to breathe easy and reduce your lung cancer risk.
1. Quit Smoking
Smoking is the biggest cause of lung cancer, responsible for 80-90% of all cases. Quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risk of developing lung cancer. Studies have shown that people who quit smoking can lower their risk of lung cancer by 50% after ten years of being smoke-free. Quitting smoking can also improve overall health and reduce the risk of other smoking-related illnesses like heart disease and stroke.
If you’re a smoker, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. There are many smoking cessation programs and resources available, including nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medications, and support groups. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to quit smoking.
2. Avoid Secondhand Smoke
Secondhand smoke is responsible for around 7,300 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year. If you’re a non-smoker, avoiding secondhand smoke is crucial to reducing your lung cancer risk. Secondhand smoke contains many of the same carcinogens as cigarette smoke and can be just as harmful. Try to avoid places where smoking is allowed, and ask people not to smoke around you or in your home or car.
3. Test for Radon in Your Home
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that can seep into homes and other buildings, leading to high levels of exposure. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer, responsible for around 21,000 deaths in the United States each year. Testing for radon in your home is easy and inexpensive. You can purchase a radon detection kit from your local hardware store or hire a professional to test your home. If high levels of radon are detected, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure, like installing a radon mitigation system.
4. Limit Exposure to Air Pollution
Air pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer, especially for people who live in urban areas. Exposure to pollutants like diesel exhaust, particulate matter, and ozone can cause inflammation and damage to the lungs, leading to an increased risk of lung cancer. If you live in an area with high levels of air pollution, try to limit your exposure by staying indoors on days when pollution levels are high, using indoor air filters, and avoiding high-traffic areas.
5. Stay Active and Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight and staying active can help lower your lung cancer risk. Studies have shown that people who engage in regular physical activity and maintain a healthy weight have a lower risk of developing lung cancer than those who are inactive or overweight. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, and focus on maintaining a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
6. Get Screened for Lung Cancer
Lung cancer screening is a test used to detect lung cancer in people who have a high risk of the disease. The test uses low-dose computed tomography (CT) scanning to detect small tumors in the lungs that may not be visible on a regular chest X-ray. The American Cancer Society recommends annual lung cancer screening for people who are between 55 and 74 years old and have a history of smoking.
7. Protect Your Lungs at Work
Exposure to certain substances at work, like asbestos, silica, and diesel exhaust, can increase the risk of lung cancer. If you work in an industry that involves exposure to these substances, make sure to take the necessary precautions to protect your lungs. This might include wearing protective equipment like masks, gloves, and respirators, or changing jobs if necessary to avoid harmful exposure.
8. Get Vaccinated against Respiratory Infections
Respiratory infections like influenza and pneumonia can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of lung cancer. Getting vaccinated against these infections can help lower your risk of developing lung cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months gets an annual flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine if they’re at high risk.
9. Practice Safe Sun Exposure
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can increase the risk of developing lung cancer, especially in people who have a history of skin cancer. To reduce your risk, practice safe sun exposure by wearing protective clothing, like hats and long-sleeved shirts, staying in the shade during peak hours, and using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
10. Be Mindful of Your Mental Health
Stress and anxiety can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of lung cancer. To reduce your risk, be mindful of your mental health and take steps to manage stress and anxiety. This might include practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga, talking to a therapist or counselor, or participating in stress-reducing activities like exercise or art.
Lowering your lung cancer risk requires making some lifestyle changes and taking proactive steps to protect your lungs. Quitting smoking, limiting exposure to secondhand smoke and air pollution, testing for radon in your home, and staying active and maintaining a healthy weight are all things you can do to reduce your risk. Getting screened for lung cancer, protecting your lungs at work, getting vaccinated against respiratory infections, practicing safe sun exposure, and managing stress and anxiety are also important for maintaining lung health. By following these ten actionable steps, you can breathe easy and lower your lung cancer risk.
FAQs about Lowering Lung Cancer Risk
1. Can lung cancer be hereditary?
While most cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking or other environmental factors, some cases are hereditary. People who have a family history of lung cancer or a genetic mutation like BRCA1 or BRCA2 may be at increased risk of developing lung cancer. If you have a family history of lung cancer, talk to your doctor about your risk and whether genetic counseling or testing is appropriate for you.
2. Can lung cancer be cured?
Lung cancer can be treated, and in some cases, cured if it’s caught early. Treatments for lung cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy. The best course of treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health.
3. How is lung cancer diagnosed?
Lung cancer is typically diagnosed through imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, or PET scans, as well as tissue biopsies. If a tumor is found, doctors may perform a biopsy to determine whether the tumor is cancerous and what type of lung cancer it is.
4. Can exercise reduce the risk of lung cancer?
Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of lung cancer, as well as other types of cancer and chronic diseases. Exercise can also improve lung function and reduce the risk of respiratory infections that can weaken the immune system.
5. Why is radon dangerous?
Radon is a radioactive gas that is produced by the decay of uranium in soil and rocks. When radon enters a home or other building, it can accumulate and expose people to high levels of radiation. Exposure to radon can cause damage to the lungs, leading to an increased risk of lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Testing for radon and taking steps to reduce exposure can help lower the risk of lung cancer.