Lung Cancer Awareness Month is observed in November to promote lung health and decrease the occurrence of lung cancer.
Lung cancer is a disease in which certain cells in the lungs become abnormal and multiply uncontrollably to form a tumor. It occurs most often in adults in their sixties or seventies. In the United States, it is estimated that more than 221,000 people develop lung cancer each year. Approximately 72 to 80 percent of people who develop lung cancer have a history of long-term tobacco smoking; however, the condition can occur in people who have never smoked. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, accounting for an estimated 27 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States.
Lung cancer occurs when genetic mutations build up in genes that control cell growth and division or the repair of damaged DNA. These changes allow cells to grow and divide uncontrollably to form a tumor. In nearly all cases of lung cancer, these genetic changes are acquired during a person's lifetime and are present only in certain cells in the lung.
Researchers have identified many personal and environmental factors that contribute to a person's risk of developing lung cancer. The greatest risk factor is long-term tobacco smoking, which increases a person's risk of developing lung cancer 20-fold. Other risk factors include continued exposure to air pollution, radon, asbestos, or secondhand smoke, or long-term use of hormone replacement therapy for menopause. Exposure to these cancer-causing compounds (carcinogens) increases the rate at which genetic mutations occur, which can ultimately lead to the growth of a tumor. Having a history of lung disease, such as tuberculosis, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis, is also associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.
During Lung Cancer Awareness Month and beyond, individuals can promote lung health and decrease their risk of developing lung cancer by adopting a few lifestyle habits, including not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke and other unhealthy air.