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These Forms of Lung Cancer Are on the Rise in the U.S.

5 minute read

By Christopher Brown

It leads the list of most common cancers. It accounts for the most cancer deaths by a wide margin too. In 2015 alone, it’s estimated that lung cancer care in the United States cost a staggering $13.4 billion. That’s before accounting for lost productivity due to sickness and death.1

It doesn’t matter where you search for your stats, the numbers are always stark. Sad thing is, cancer diagnosis rates are on the rise. There is a silver lining though. Diagnostic tools and treatment breakthroughs have led to better care and less deaths. Many of the cases mentioned above could be prevented too.

Today we’ll take some time exploring the many forms of lung cancer that are on the rise in the U.S., break down the primary risk factors, and share a few steps you can take to minimize your risk.

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Small Cell Lung Cancer

Of the two main lung cancer classifications, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is the least likely to occur. It only accounts for about 20 percent of all lung cancer diagnoses and is usually caused by smoking tobacco.

SCLC can be broken up into two categories: small cell carcinoma and combined small cell carcinoma. It does grow and spread much faster than its non-small cell lung cancer counterpart, and has a tendency to recur in patients that develop it.

Doctors rely on CT scans, PET scans, and bone scans to diagnose SCLC. Good news is that both small cell carcinoma and combined cell carcinoma typically respond well to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.2

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) may grow at a slower rate, but it accounts for the vast majority of diagnosed cases. It often causes little or no symptoms until the later stages too. NSCLC is understood best when broken up into its three distinct categories. They are:

  1. Adenocarcinoma: Typically found in the outer area of the lung. Accounting for close to 40 percent of all NSCLC cases, it’s the most common form of lung cancer
  2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Usually develops in the central section of the lung where the trachea and the bronchi join the lung.
  3. Large-Cell Undifferentiated Carcinoma: Can be found anywhere in the lung and is known to spread and grow much faster than the other types of NSCLC. This type accounts for roughly 10 percent of all NSCLC cases and is often the most difficult to treat.

Lung Cancer Risk Factors

The probability of developing lung cancer has been steadily dropping, but diagnoses continue to climb. Although lung cancer deaths are trending downwards, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in the country.3

There are a few different risk factors associated that increase a person’s chance of getting lung cancer but smoking is undoubtedly the largest. Cigarette smoking is linked to over 80 percent of all lung cancer deaths in the United States. Of the 7,000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke, at least 70 of them are known carcinogens.4 Secondhand smoke is linked to lung cancer too.

The second leading cause of lung cancer is radon exposure. This naturally occurring gas is formed in rocks and can’t be seen, smelled or tasted. Scary stuff, but not nearly as scary as the countless, and preventable, deaths caused through the ingestion of tobacco smoke.

Quitting Smoking Tips

Lung cancer diagnosis rates dwarf that of any other cancer type. It accounted for 2.1 million new cases and 1.8 millions deaths in the U.S. in 2018 — and those numbers are subject to growth.

The tragic thing is that a lot of those new cases and many of the deaths may have been avoidable. Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, and is linked to a staggering 90 percent of lung cancer deaths.

Smoking cigarettes can make getting lung cancer 15 to 30 times more likely. But smoking is far from a foregone conclusion. As difficult as it may be, quitting smoking is possible. In fact, there are many effective techniques to kick the habit for good.

Medications

The advent of pharmaceutical interventions has been a real lifeline for smokers wanting to quit.

Varenicline is the most commonly prescribed medication, and it’s pretty effective too. Varenicline mirrors the dopamine releasing effect that smokers usually experience by smoking, while also blocking the brain’s nicotine receptors. Bupropion, a popular antidepressant, can also be used to offset the effects of nicotine withdrawal.

After one year, varenicline boasts a 20.5 percent success rate with bupropion coming in second place at 18.6 percent.5 This is very good when you consider the success rate of the non-medical alternatives. You’re encouraged to learn more about these drugs online, or ask your doctor if you prefer the direct approach.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Intense cravings, mood swings, nausea, and an inability to concentrate round out an even longer list of symptoms linked to nicotine withdrawal. Symptoms can begin just a couple hours after your last hit of nicotine and are usually the strongest in the first week. Thankfully, the physical withdrawal symptoms begin to wane, and can disappear completely after a month.6

Nicotine replacement therapy is designed to offset most of those symptoms by drip-feeding a quitting smoker with lower, and lower doses of nicotine. Gum, patches, sprays, inhalers, and lozenges are often used to wean a person off their nicotine dependence over time.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A popular form of talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) directly targets harmful behavior patterns and unhelpful ways of thinking. Treatment often involves one-on-one counseling and relies on strategies that include learning to recognize craving triggers, developing skills to cope with cravings, and building confidence in a smokers’ ability to overcome them.

CBT has been proven useful in treating anxiety disorders, depression, marital problems, as well as substance abuse problems. The science surrounding cognitive behavioral smoking cessation treatment is still in its infancy, but the early numbers are resoundingly positive.7

Apps

App stores are full of habit-busting apps designed to reinforce good behavior and eliminate bad behavior. Apps designed to help smokers quit rely on a number of strategies to aid their journey,

Some apps are designed to track craving cues. Some track a smoker’s progress by checking off smoke free days, some tabulate the amount of money saved by not smoking, and others connect you with a larger community of reformed smokers.

You’re just a quick search away from a new habit-busting smart app. So what are you waiting for?

Conclusion

The risk of dying from cancer is dropping. Better medical treatments and improved screening account for a lot of that shift. Still, lung cancer causes more than 350 deaths each day. That’s more than breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancers combined. Eight out of 10 of those deaths are expected to be caused from smoking cigarettes.8

It’s never too late to quit. Smokers have never had access to more clinically proven treatments and strategies either. The real trick is persistence. It’s not uncommon for a smoker to try quitting over 30-times before kicking it for good. So stick with it, keep searching and learning online, and take back your life.9

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