Understanding Lung Cancer
- Radio journalist Susie Jones’ lung cancer diagnosis came after her mother insisted on a chest X-ray following a serious car accident. Thankfully, doctors caught her disease early, and now they’re figuring out the best steps for treatment.
- Jones says she was a young smoker, starting at age 13.
- 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.”
The Minnesota-based journalist totaled her car in a two-vehicle crash on Nov. 4. Following the crash, she went to urgent care where she called her concerned mother who insisted that she get a chest X-ray since her seatbelt hit Jones so hard.Read More
“[My mother] said, ‘Tell [the doctor] to do a chest X-ray because that seatbelt hit you so hard,'” Jones said. “And I was like, ‘Huh,’ and he was like, ‘Oh well,’ but he did it.”
And thank goodness he did because that X-ray led to another test that showed a shadow or spot on the upper right lobe of her lung. Jones – who admits she was a young smoker, starting at age 13 – was then diagnosed with lung cancer.
“I had a biopsy done on my left lung and they found Stage 1 primary lung cancer,” Jones said. “Initially, I was indignant, but then I moved into kind of like incredible gratitude, and I said, ‘I feel like I’m living in grace right now because they would have never caught it… I believe in God with all my heart, and I’ve been sober by the grace of God for many years, and I keep thinking I must not be done yet.”
Now, Jones is set to head to the Mayo Clinic to determine the appropriate course of treatment which will likely include surgery.
“I’m just trying to be brave and to stay in the day, and be really grateful for all the people around me,” she said.
Understanding Lung Cancer
Lung cancer, the second most common type of 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