You may not know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Idaho. Other kinds of cancers certainly get a lot more attention, but we should all be aware of the risks. Smoking causes about 85 percent of lung cancer deaths in Idaho, but that leaves 15 percent that are not caused by smoking. And since November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to understand what we can do to reduce our risk for developing this terrible disease.
Are there symptoms of lung cancer?
Symptoms can vary a lot for everyone, so they’re not very reliable. Some people don’t have symptoms at all, but others may have shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing that doesn’t go away and that might include blood, chest pain, fever, and weight loss.
Who is most at risk?
Everyone has the potential to develop lung cancer, but some people have a higher risk than others because of lifestyle choices (like choosing to smoke), environmental exposures (like radon), and family history. Current smokers or those who have smoked in the past are 10 to 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers. Secondhand smoke also causes lung cancer – nationally about 38,000 nonsmokers die each year from secondhand smoke exposure.
What can people do to reduce their risk?
First and foremost, if they’re smokers, they can quit. Quitting is the single most effective behavior change to improve individual health. It has immediate and long-term health benefits, including drastically reducing the risk of developing lung cancer. If you’re ready to quit, but you need help, visit www.projectfilter.org. Nonsmokers can have their homes tested for radon, which is found in every county in Idaho.
What about health screenings? Is there a test for lung cancer that can be done if a person is worried?
There are screenings that can be done. If you have a history of heavy smoking and are still smoking or have quit within the last 15 years, and you’re between the ages of 55 and 80, you should talk to your healthcare provider about yearly screenings.
So, what about the environmental exposure to radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that seeps into homes from the soil. It is estimated that radon is responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. It is does not have a smell or a color so testing your home is the only way to know if you have radon levels that need to be addressed.
Is it difficult to test for radon?
Testing for radon is simple and inexpensive. Test kits cost $9.95, and you can order them at www.radonidaho.org. The cost includes the test, shipping costs, and lab analysis. If you find that your home has a high level of radon, it usually can be fixed relatively inexpensively. The dangerous gas is found throughout Idaho so every homeowner should test their homes. Testing is best done in the cooler months so November is a good time to do it.
(Note: A Closer Look at Your Health airs at 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the one from Nov. 1.)