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Lung Cancer Questions and Answers

Lung Cancer Questions and Answers (cont.)

Q:  What causes lung cancer?

A:  Cigarette smoking is responsible for 79 percent of lung cancers among women. Those who smoke two or more packs of cigarettes a day have lung cancer mortality rates 12 to 25 times greater than that of nonsmokers. Another leading cause of lung cancer is on-the-job exposure to carcinogens. Asbestos is perhaps the best known of the industrial substances associated with lung cancer, but there are many cancer-causing substances that people may deal with at work. Some others are uranium, arsenic and certain petroleum products.


Q:  Who usually gets lung cancer?

A:  Lung cancer occurs most often in people over 50 who have long histories of cigarette smoking. The incidence of lung cancer in women as a whole has climbed at an alarming rate, and these increases are clearly attributable to the increases in the number of women who have smoked.

Q:  Would a chest x-ray earlier have found lung cancer sooner?

A:  It may have found it sooner, but it would not have necessarily have affected your outcome (if or when you might die from the disease).

Q:  I have lung cancer and my doctor wants to do a surgical resection. How do I know if this is the right thing to do?

A:  Review the section, "Questions to Ask," at this Web site. Do not submit to any procedure until you are clear and have all the answers to your questions. Be aware that if surgery is being considered for lung cancer, it is a good sign, signifying that the degree of tumor involvement or spread is probably limited. Also, you should consider getting a second opinion. Your doctor should not be offended by this suggestion and, in fact, might encourage it. Your health care professional may recommend having a pulmonary function test, which helps identify patients with extremely high surgical risk. Also, cardiopulmonary exercising testing may be helpful to determine whether or not you can withstand the rigors of this surgery.

Q:  Does the rest of my family need to be screened for lung cancer?

A:  It depends. There is no known genetic link in lung cancer. But that doesn't mean one doesn't exist. Either way, there won't be a test until researchers find a genetic link. However, just by being related to you (a smoker who got lung cancer), your nonsmoking relatives have about a 2.4-fold increased risk of developing lung cancer. Discuss the matter with your health care professional.

Q:  I've heard a lot about environmental tobacco smoke. What is it and what effect does it have on me?

A:  More simply put, it's second-hand smoke. Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is the combination of two forms of smoke from burning tobacco products: sidestream smoke, or smoke that is emitted between the puffs of a burning cigarette, pipe or cigar; and mainstream smoke, or the smoke that is exhaled by the smoker. When a cigarette is smoked, about one-half of the smoke generated is sidestream smoke. This form of smoke contains essentially all of the same carcinogenic agents that have been identified in the mainstream smoke, but at greater levels. Researchers estimate that ETS causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year.

Q:  What can I do to help myself through lung cancer treatment?

A:  First, stay active. You may need periods of rest, but there's no need to stop doing the things you enjoy as long as you feel able to do them. Seeing other people and maintaining a social life are important. In general, anything you feel well enough to do is all right. This includes light activities (like housework or walking), sports and an active sexual life. You may be able to continue working full- or part-time. If you cannot work, it is important to stay involved in as many other activities as possible.

Q:  I'm experiencing severe pain but I'm afraid that I'll become addicted to these heavy-duty drugs. What should I do?

A:  First, talk to your health care professional. Don't accept pain because you have cancer. It can be managed with help from knowledgeable health care professionals. Many myths about pain still exist. The most troubling one is that too much medication will cause addiction. But studies have shown this to be completely false. Addiction is a psychological or emotional dependence on feeling high. People with cancer do not take drugs to get high but to relieve their pain. When the proper dosage of medication is taken around the clock, addiction does not occur.

Q:  I have no appetite from the cancer and the chemotherapy. Everything I put down comes up, so what's the use of eating?

A:  You must eat as much as you can while you are having treatment. People who eat well and drink lots of fluids can deal with side effects better and are better able to fight infection. In addition, their bodies can rebuild healthy tissues faster. Even when you know it's important to eat well, there may be days when you feel you just can't. You may be interested to know that cancer generally decreases appetite. Chemotherapy also affects your appetite because it affects how your food tastes and simply having lung cancer can also wipe out your appetite. When your appetite is poor, try these strategies:

  • Eat small meals or snacks whenever you want. You don't have to eat three regular meals each day.
  • Vary your diet and try new foods and recipes. Some patients find that cold foods are easier to tolerate, as the smell of cooking foods may be a "turnoff".
  • When possible, take a walk before meals to make you feel hungrier.
  • Try changing your mealtime routine. For example, eat by candlelight or in a different location.
  • Eat with friends or family members. When eating alone, listen to the radio or watch TV.
  • If you live alone, you might want to arrange for Meals on Wheels or a similar program to bring food to you.
  • Drink as much as you can. Small amounts consumed often will help keep enough fluids in your body. You may find Popsicles, gelatins and ice cream good substitutes for other liquids.

Q:  I am so depressed about having lung cancer that I feel I cannot go on.

A:  You need help dealing with your feelings. You should immediately seek help from a counselor, therapist, social worker or clergy member. Ask your health care team about what services are available. It may also help to join a support group of people who are living with cancer. Talking with other people who understand and can relate to many of the same issues you are coping with can be a great help.

Copyright 2003

National Women's Health Resource Center Inc. (NWHRC).