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UPMC Physician: Don’t Let Cancer Take Your Breath Away

There are many things from everyday life that people take for granted – their loved ones, electricity, access to nature, and even breathing. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s important to learn about the ways in which you can reduce your chances of developing the disease.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lung cancer is the third most common cancer and more people in the country die from it than any other type of cancer in the United States. As of 2020, cancer of the lung and bronchus affected approximately 34 out of every 100,000 people in Pennsylvania.
Causes and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Smoking cigarettes is the No. 1 risk factor for developing lung cancer and in the United States, it is linked to about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Other tobacco products like pipes and cigars also contribute to this risk. Those around these kinds of smokes also have an increased risk of developing the disease, as there are more than 7,000 chemicals in the secondhand smoke they are inhaling.

Another big factor that contributes to lung cancer is radon, a naturally occurring, odorless, colorless, tasteless, invisible, and radioactive gas that can be found in soil, rocks, and water that cannot easily be detected. This gas can permeate throughout homes and other buildings giving those who inhabit them for long periods of time a higher chance of developing lung cancer.

Early detection of lung cancer is key as by the time symptoms become present, the more likely the disease is in its later stages. Some common symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, hoarseness, coughing, coughing up blood, discomfort, and weight loss.

If you currently smoke, are around secondhand smoke, or have been exposed to radon for a long period of time, ask your doctor about a low-dose CT screening that can help detect lung cancer early.

Tips to Reduce Your Risk

While there is no definite way to guarantee that you won’t develop lung cancer, there are several ways you can take steps to reduce your overall risk.

Quit Smoking – Set yourself up for success with quitting smoking by setting a date, finding a quit buddy, or attending a smoking cessation program near you. Remind yourself daily why you have made this decision and prepare yourself for a new, healthier way of living. When in doubt, speak with your doctor about different cessation aids or ways to help lessen your withdrawal symptoms.

Avoid Secondhand Smoke – If you live with or are around a smoker for extended periods throughout the day, help them take the steps in quitting. If they’re not ready, ask them to smoke outside and avoid locations where people are smoking.

Test for Radon – Radon tests in your home should be performed periodically, especially if radon is a known problem in your area. Testing is recommended at the time of purchase especially if it’s never been done before, before and following any renovations, and before deciding to live in the lower levels of a home, such as a basement bedroom. If detected, there are mediation methods that can improve the safety of your home by helping reduce exposure to the gas.

Avoid Carcinogens – Carcinogens are substances capable of causing cancer. Ensure that proper precautions are followed to help protect yourself from exposures, especially in the workplace. If you are concerned, ask your doctor how to better protect yourself while on the job.

Live a Healthy Lifestyle – Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and exercising are the most natural ways to help prevent cancer and disease of any kind. Foods that are rich in nutrients and vitamins fuel your body to be its best. Work exercise slowly into your daily routine and try to get at least 30 minutes a day. Some exercise is better than none at all.

Get Screened – If you have smoked the equivalent of one pack daily for 30 years and are between the ages of 55 to 79 or if you have smoked the equivalent of one pack daily for 20 years and have an additional risk factor of lung cancer, you are considered “high risk.” Talk to your doctor about scheduling an annual lung cancer screening.

If you notice any changes to your health or breathing conditions long-term, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor about your concerns. He or she will recommend care that is personal to your case, ensuring the best possible outcome for your given situation.

by Abdalla Sholi, M.D.
UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

Abdalla Sholi, M.D., is the medical director of Medical Oncology at UPMC Hillman Cancer Centers in Coudersport, Wellsboro, and Williamsport. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center is one of the largest integrated cancer networks in the U.S. To learn more, visit