By Dennis J. Tishko, M.D.
Lung cancer is a profoundly common and dangerous disease, but we don’t talk about it nearly enough. Did you know that lung cancer kills four times more women than breast cancer and three times more people than colon cancer?
The good news is that lung cancer screenings can detect cancer early, and excellent new treatments are available. By educating yourself on lung cancer, you could save your life and those you care about.
Myth #1 – “Lung cancer is not very common.”
Lung cancer is the nation’s leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. It kills more Americans than breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, melanoma, sarcomas, childhood cancers, and domestic violence combined.
Myth #2 – “Lung cancer is a hopeless death sentence.”
Caught early, lung cancer can be curable in more than 95% of cases. Surgical removal of early-stage lung cancers can be highly effective with excellent results. With a late diagnosis, lung cancer is very difficult to treat, and survival is not nearly as good as when lung cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages.
Myth #3 – “Only smokers get lung cancer.”
About 20% of all lung cancer occurs in people who have never smoked and who have no risk factors. In fact, there are almost as many people dying from lung cancer as there are dying from liver cancer. Lung cancer in non-smokers appears to be increasing. Non-smokers can and do get lung cancer.
Myth #4 – “Air spreads cancer.”
Cancer does not spread when it meets the air, although this old wives’ tale persists today. This false belief has caused much useless worry, especially in the Black community, where more than 60% believe this false narrative. These wrong ideas can cause delays in diagnosis and treatment and ultimately lead to lower survival rates.
Myth #5 – “More women than men die from lung cancer.”
Actually, more men are diagnosed with and die from lung cancer compared to women. In fact, women with lung cancer have better survival rates compared to men.
Myth #6 – “Women are more likely to die from breast cancer than lung cancer.”
WRONG! Women are more than twice as likely to die from lung cancer than breast cancer. The idea that breast cancer is a bigger killer than lung cancer has led women to focus on mammogram screenings and ignore lung cancer screenings, even though lung cancer screenings are highly effective.
Myth #7 – “There is no way to find lung cancer early.”
Lung cancer screenings are extremely effective at finding early cancers. The screening test is a quick, 4-second CAT scan of the lungs. No contrast is used, so there are no needles, no pain, and very low X-ray exposure. In addition, these screenings are covered by virtually all insurances.
Myth #8 – “Alternative medicine works just as well as real medicine.”
This is another very dangerous, and sadly, common belief. A recent study showed that 40% of Americans believe that some form of “alternative” medicine like vitamins, oxygen, supplements, enemas, or crystals can cure any cancer, and 48% of millennials hold this belief. The truth is that lung cancer treatment is very complex. It requires the sophisticated efforts of surgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, and a comprehensive team of specialists. Marvelous medical advancements are being made and proving to be very effective, helping patients live longer than ever. Alternative therapies have not shown these benefits.
Myth #9 – “Smoking marijuana is safe because it is natural.”
Smoking is dangerous. Period. Whether it’s tobacco or marijuana, the products of smoking are the products of burning. This combustion produces a vast number of chemicals that can cause cancer. The deeply inhaled and retained smoke from marijuana is no different. Studies have linked marijuana smoking with many serious health problems, including cancer and mental health problems. Smoking anything is bad.
Myth #10 -” It’s too late to quit smoking now.”
It is never too late to quit smoking—the beneficial effects of quitting start soon after the last puff. Lungs begin to clear, breathing improves, and many risks begin to decline. A lifetime of smoking will not reverse immediately, but the benefits of quitting are very much worth the effort.
Dennis J. Tishko, M.D. is the Director of Thoracic Surgery at Broward Health. He is a top lung cancer surgeon who has pioneered a new minimally invasive single incision VATS surgery for lung cancer and lung nodules called SIVATs. It leads to a faster recovery time cutting hospital stays by 50% or more. He is an expert having performed over 7,000 operations and is part of a larger cancer care team.
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