Information about lung cancer can easily be found on the Internet. It can be helpful and it can also be inaccurate or misleading. Web resources should be viewed cautiously and reviewed with your health care team. Each patient’s case is different and applying generalized medical information to any one case can be difficult without the help of trained medical professionals. Also, the lung cancer staging system changed in January 2010, so some Internet resources may be inaccurate or seem contradictory.
Myth #1: Only Smokers Get Lung Cancer
Fact: The majority of people who develop lung cancer are smokers or ex-smokers, but there is a small percent of people who get lung cancer who are lifelong non-smokers. There are also other causes of lung cancer including radiation, asbestos, second-hand smoke, radon, and air pollution.
Myth #2: More Women Die from Breast Cancer than from Lung Cancer
Fact: Almost half of lung cancer cases occur in women, and more women die from lung cancer every year than any other form of cancer.
Myth #3: Nothing I Do Will Lower My Risk of Lung Cancer
Fact: Not smoking or quitting smoking can lower your risk of developing lung cancer. There are also some environmental exposures like radon, and occupational exposures like asbestos that can be avoided to decrease your risk of getting lung cancer.
Myth #4: I Am Too Young to Get Lung Cancer
Fact: Lung cancer occurs more frequently in older people, but can occur in young people as well.
Myth #5: I Am Too Old to be Treated for Lung Cancer
Fact: Performance status, or how well someone is able to carry out ordinary daily activities, is a better indicator of how well someone will tolerate treatments than their actual age.
Myth #6: Exposure to Air During Surgery Causes Lung Cancer to Spread
Fact: It is a common belief that if a lung cancer is exposed to air, it will spread. Surgery does not cause lung cancer to spread, and in the early stages of lung cancer, it can offer an excellent chance to cure the disease. In the past, scans were less able to detect very small tumors that had already spread. Scans have improved significantly, allowing better detection of small areas of spread and better identifying patients who might or might not benefit from surgery.
Myth #7: Lung Cancer is Not Curable
Fact: When caught early, lung cancer is curable. Even if a lung cancer is not curable, it is still treatable. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Treatment can often extend life, but also decreases some of the symptoms caused by lung cancer.
Myth #8: I Feel Fine, so I Can’t Have Lung Cancer
Fact: Often, signs and symptoms do not appear until lung cancer is more advanced. You can feel fine and still have lung cancer.
Myth #9: If I Already Have Lung Cancer, I Don’t Need to Quit Smoking
Fact: There are several reasons to quit smoking when you are diagnosed with lung cancer. Quitting can help your body better cope with the treatment you are about to undergo. Quitting can improve the success rate of surgery and make other treatments like radiation or chemotherapy more effective. Quitting also lowers your risk of dying from causes other than lung cancer like stroke, heart disease, or other cancers. There are also some immediate health benefits of quitting smoking, including enhanced circulation and lowering your blood pressure. Quitting smoking can also reduce your risk for other health problems and breathing difficulties during treatment.
Myth #10: Why Stop Smoking? I Probably Already Have Lung Cancer
Fact: If you stop smoking before lung cancer develops, your damaged lung tissue will gradually improve and start to return to normal. Some of the changes that occur in your body when you quit smoking:
20 minutes after quitting:
- Blood pressure decreases
- Pulse rate drops
- Body temperature of your hands and feet increases
At 8 hours:
- Carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal
- Oxygen saturation of your blood increases to normal values
At 24 hours:
- Chance of having a heart attack decreases
At 48 hours:
- Nerve endings start to regenerate
- Ability to smell and taste improves
2 weeks to 3 months after quitting:
- Circulation improves
- Walking becomes easier
- Lung function increases
After 1 to 9 months:
- Coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, shortness of breath decreases
After 1 year:
- Excess risk of coronary heart disease is decreased to half that of a smoker
At 5 years:
- Stroke risk is reduced to that of people who have never smoked.
At 10 years:
- Risk of lung cancer drops to as little as one-half that of continuing smokers
- Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decreases
- Risk of ulcer decreases
At 15 years:
- Risk of coronary heart disease is now similar to that of people who have never smoked
- Risk of death returns to nearly the level of people who have never smoked
Last Review Date: Dec. 17, 2010
Online Editor(s): Kathryn Adam