Understanding Lung Cancer
- Karen Beardmore, 50, was working as a mechanical engineer’s assistant when she fell from a 7-foot ladder. After follow-up scans, doctors found out she had lung cancer.
- Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer (not counting skin cancer). It is a very serious cancer, but the outlook is improving with smoking rates on the decline and improvements in treatment technology. Even still, diagnosis and treatment of the disease can be tricky since symptoms often don’t appear until the cancer has spread.
- Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. It is also linked to multiple other kinds of cancers. One of our experts says that, “We know that there is a causal relationship between smoking and both incidents of cancer and the chance of dying from cancer.”
Karen Beardmore, 50, works as a mechanical engineer’s assistant in a DHL warehouse. One day, she took a hard fall from a 7-foot ladder that necessitated a trip to the hospital in November 2021. She then had scans on her chest and back to see if everything was okay, but doctors found something they weren’t looking for: small cell lung cancer.Read More
Beardmore has since been told that her cancer is at stage four. She used to smoke, but she quit a year before her diagnosis. Now, she’s waiting on scans to tell her if there’s something in her liver.
“It’s a lot of up and downs, a real rollercoaster of emotions, especially with all the health complications,” Tammy said. “She’s had pretty much every side effect you can think of under the sun, obviously she’s had a lot of hair loss.”
On top of hair loss, Beardmore’s also had issues with headaches, extreme fatigue, nausea, throwing up, balance and eating. Treatment has even had an effect on her sense of taste.
“It’s been hard for her,” Tammy said. “Obviously we’re all very worried about her. I care for her full time and help her out in the house all the time, watch out for her and monitor her. All we want to do is try and take away any stresses she might have.”
In addition to her own efforts, Tammy – along with her 24-year-old brother Channon – set up a GoFundMe page to help ease the financial burden of Beardmore’s ongoing cancer battle.
“My mum raised me and my brother on her own for the past 20 years, she’s always been there for us and done her best by us,” Tammy said. “She’s truly a wonderful mum, we’ve been incredibly lucky to have her, and she will always put a smile on our faces every single day.”
Understanding Lung Cancer
Lung cancer, the second most common type of cancer (not counting skin cancer), is the leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women in the United States. Diagnosis and treatment of the disease can be tricky since symptoms often don’t appear until the cancer has spread. An initial symptom, for example, could be as serious as a seizure if the lung cancer has already spread to the brain. But other symptoms can include increased coughing, chest pain, unexplained weight loss, shortness of breath, wheezing, losing your voice or persistent infections like bronchitis or pneumonia.
The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell, which makes up 85 percent of cases, and small-cell. These types act differently and, accordingly, require different types of treatment. Dr. Patrick Forde, a thoracic oncologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, previously told SurvivorNet about how distinguishing between the two types – and their subtypes – could be very beneficial.
“Within that non-small cell category, there’s a subtype called non-squamous adenocarcinoma, and that’s the group of patients for whom genetic testing is very important on the tumor,” he explains. “Genetic testing is looking for mutations in the DNA, in the tumor, which are not present in your normal DNA.”
Smoking and Lung Cancer Risk
Although we often associate lung cancer with smoking, it’s important to remember that even people who’ve never smoked before can still get lung cancer. In fact, the CDC reports that, in the United States, about 10 to 20 percent of lung cancers, or 20,000 to 40,000 lung cancers each year, happen in people who’ve never smoked.
Still, there’s no ignoring the fact that cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. Additionally, smoking is linked to multiple types of other cancers and can even effect cancer survival.
“We know that there is a causal relationship between smoking and both incidents of cancer, and the chance of dying from cancer,” Dr. Andrea Tufano-Sugarman of NYU Langone Health previously told SurvivorNet. “And there are very few things in science that have a cause and effect relationship, but this is one of them, which is very powerful.”
Tobacco smoke contains a mixture of more than 7,000 different chemicals – at least 70 of which are known to cause cancer. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention states that cigarette smoking is linked to about 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths, and people who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who don’t smoke. Additionally, second-hand smoke can cause lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 7,000 adults die of lung cancer annually from breathing secondhand smoke.
How to Quit Smoking
Dr. Tufano-Sugarman often counsels cancer patients who are trying to quit smoking, which, she says, is similar to counseling other smokers.
When Dr. Tufano-Sugarman works with people with cancer, counseling is often paired with nicotine replacement therapy. She typically prescribes a daily nicotine patch to manage withdrawal symptoms, as well as a fast-acting option to curb cravings like a nicotine gum, inhaler, or spray.
Dr. Tufano-Sugarman’s main message for people trying to quit smoking is that the process is not always linear.
“There’s going to be slip-ups and relapses,” she said. “But above all, it’s never too late to stop.”
Strategies for Managing Tobacco Cravings
- Nicotine replacement therapy. As Dr. Tufano-Sugarman discussed, nicotine replacement therapy is one of the main tools that smokers have at their disposal. Long-acting therapies like nicotine patches can be paired with short acting therapies (including nicotine gum, lozenges, nasal spray, and inhalers) to cope with intense cravings. More research will be needed to gauge the effectiveness of other smoking substitutes like e-cigarettes and vapes.
- Steer clear of triggers. Cravings can be provoked by situations that you are used to having tobacco in. It can help to familiarize yourself with these environments and make plans for how you can manage them without tobacco or how you can avoid them completely.
- Wait. If you feel yourself on the brink of giving in to a tobacco craving, delay smoking for 10 minutes and do something else to distract yourself. Move to a no-smoking area to make it less convenient for you to smoke. Cravings can often subside if given time.
- Chew something. Whether it’s gum, candy, or vegetables, chew something that will occupy your mouth as you resist your cravings.
- Don’t give in to the “just one more” mentality. Smoking once just leads to smoking again. Be careful not to convince yourself that you can satisfy a tobacco craving and then quit after that.
- Exercise more. Boosting your physical activity can distract you from tobacco cravings and also make them less intense. Exercise can mean a lot of different things—even short periods of physical activity can help tobacco cravings go away.
- Try relaxation techniques. Finding new ways of dealing with stress can be an important part of quitting smoking. Techniques like deep-breathing, yoga, visualization, muscle relaxation, and massage can open new doors for the way you relate to stress and smoking.
- Reach out for support. Establishing strong support systems is essential both for people battling cancer and people battling tobacco addiction. Calling a friend or family member to talk on the phone or go for a walk can help remind you that you’re not in this alone.
- Research other resources. The Mayo Clinic recommends a free telephone line—800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669)—for support and counseling. Additionally, there are online support groups for smokers trying to quit, and blogs where people write about how they manage the same challenges you are facing.
- Remind yourself why you want to quit. Whether your goal is to feel better, get healthier, save money, or prepare for cancer treatment, it can help to write down or speak aloud the reason you decided to quit in the first place.
Contributing: Joe Kerwin