Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Take a deep breath and thank your lungs

By Lisa Cleary
|  Monday, Nov 15, 2010  |  Updated 6:30 AM EDT
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Scaring the Smoke Out of You

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Think twice before lighting up this month: it's Lung Cancer Awareness month.

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Did you know that the surface area of a person’s lungs spans about the size of a tennis court? In reality, most people aren’t aware of such informational tidbits. However, being that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, organizations such as the American Lung Association are making sure that people are privy to the importance of healthy lungs.

The Association points out -- and with obvious cause -- that lungs are inherent to the respiratory system. In the biological process called gas exchange, the organs transport oxygen into the body and export waste gases and carbon dioxide from the body. In other words, we need our lungs to, simply, survive.

Similar to all other organs in the body, though, the lungs are delicate and susceptible to diseases like cancer. Lung cancer, the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells in the lungs, is the root of most cancer-related deaths. Such cell growths lead to tumors and eventually restrict transportation of oxygen to the body. The two major types of lung cancer are small lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. The latter is the most common form and contributes to approximately 80 percent of cases.

Contributing factors to lung cancer include exposure to asbestos, radon or secondhand smoke. Most lung cancers, however, are caused by cigarette smoking -- it’s the cause of 87 percent of all cases and is the direct factor of 90 percent of lung cancer-related deaths.

In addition, the American Lung Association points out that around 8.6 million Americans are affected by serious illnesses associated with smoking, including: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, heart disease, pneumonia, acute myeloid leukemia and abdominal aortic aneurysms. Smoking may also lead to other cancers not related to the lungs, like cancers of the throat, bladder, esophagus, cervix, stomach, pancreas and kidneys.

There truly is no easy method for smokers who are looking to can the habit. There are, however, crucial short- and long-term reasons as to why smokers should quit, beginning with health improvements and benefits, as well as the saving of money. The clincher of reasons to quit? Well, for smokers, the reason is as simple as to save your life.

Still, smokers have presumably heard all of the general reasons as to why smoking’s bad. Need a more specific time line for reasons to quit, instead? The Association’s got you covered by detailing the benefits of quitting, according to time frames broken down by minutes, hours, months and years.

After 20 minutes of quitting, they say, the heart rate decreases to a normal level; after 12 hours, the body’s carbon monoxide level decreases to normal; and, after three months, risk of heart attack decreases and lung function actually improves. After one year, coughing and shortness of breath decrease; after five to 15 years, risk of coronary heart disease and cancer (mouth, throat and esophagus) are all cut in half. After 10 years, risk of dying from lung cancer and being diagnosed with bladder cancer is decreased in half, too; the rate of diagnosis of cervical, larynx, kidney and pancreatic cancer drops as well.

Yet despite the medical warnings out there -- despite time frames indicating the benefits of quitting -- smokers still smoke because it's an addiction.

So what are tips for quitting? Well, let’s get real -- there’s no magic pill that can transform a smoker to a nonsmoker overnight. Still, it’s possible for smokers to nix the unhealthy habit with some help and a lot of will power, because it’s ultimately down to the person, the smoker, who has the power to stub out that last cigarette butt.

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