Category Archives: Lung Cancer

Two Key Sources of Lung Cancer Development

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Lung Cancer_lungcancer.about.com_iStock_000016025129_LargeWhen I think about lung cancer, I replay horrifying memories of my dad being cruelly taken away by lung cancer within two months after diagnosis, and my mother-in-law being painfully tortured for two years after her lung surgery. And they both were non-smokers.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide; you may have a story to tell, too. Let’s give lung cancer awareness a boost this month. Aside from genetic factors and pre-existing lung diseases, I’m going to talk about two important factors.

I.                   Tobacco and environmental carcinogenic factors

Much has been done by quit smoking campaigns. Yet stores still sell and folks still buy and smoke cigarettes. Let’s make this message clear:

Smoking Destroys Your Main Weapon to Fight Cancer!

Why? Tobacco smoking causes a profound mutation of genes, especially mutation of a tumor suppressor (called p53), the protein that helps you fight cancer! Research reveals elephants (Asian and Africa) have 20 copies of the tumor suppressor gene TP53, while humans have only one copy, which may explain why the cancer rate is significantly lower in elephants than in humans. Why would anyone destroy this powerful anti-cancer weapon? And remember: Exposure to second-hand smoke can also lead to dire consequences.

Because most lung cancers result from inhaling cancer-causing substances, it’s also critical to stay away from environmental hazards that are risk factors for lung cancer. These include:

  • radon
  • asbestos
  • air pollution
  • exposure to certain occupational materials (coal, tar, arsenic, nickel, chromium and cement dust)
  • radiation
  • toxic household cleaners

There are also many microorganisms (viruses, bacteria and parasites) in our environment that are carcinogens.

II.                Dietary or food mutagens and carcinogens

Food quality and sources are of major concern, because you may have no idea what’s hidden inside. Let me highlight three common factors that can potentially cause lung and other cancers:

1.  Improper cooking

Meat (beef, pork, fish, or poultry) cooked at high temperatures generates potential cancer-causing compounds, such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In many studies, rodents fed a diet containing HCAs developed lung cancer and cancers of the breast, colon, liver, skin, and prostate. PAHs were shown to promote cancers of lung and gastrointestinal tract as well as leukemia. Analysis of human urinary samples confirmed mutagenic exposure to high-heat cooked meat.

2.  Processed foods

The World Health Organization recently classified processed meats as carcinogens. Food additives and/or coloring substances such as nitrite and nitrate are so-called mutagens. They trigger mutation, and accumulated mutations may progress to cancer.

3.  “Junk foods”

Other dietary factors include over-intake of sugar, fat, sodium, and total calories. Those factors lead to fat buildup, obesity, and potentially genetic alteration that promotes cancer.

Putting it all together, a modern lifestyle of convenience is often mixed with outdoor air pollution by environmental toxins and indoor air pollution by tobacco smoke and volatile organic compounds, along with food contamination by food additives and carcinogenic agents.

Quite disturbing and concerning, isn’t it? So, let’s raise awareness to a higher level this month, this year, and beyond!

Ladies, especially watch out – because women are at higher risk of developing lung cancer than men, whether you smoke or not!


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Stay Up-to-date on Lung Cancer Awareness

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Lung cartoon_lung-mdLung cancer is the top cancer killer in the United States and worldwide. Annually, 160,000 Americans die of lung cancer. Globally, about 1.4 million people die from this devastating disease each year.

Researchers predict that lung cancer will continue to be the biggest cancer killer over the next 30 years. The main reason for the increase will be longer life spans—the older you are, the higher your risk of cancer, including lung cancer.

Lung cancer occurs when a lung cell’s gene mutation makes the cell unable to correct DNA damage and unable to undergo programmatic cell death; instead, the abnormal cell continues to grow and divide out of control.

Gene mutations can occur due to a variety of reasons. Most lung cancers are the result of inhaling carcinogenic substances.

Carcinogens are a class of substances that are directly responsible for damaging DNA and promoting cancer. Examples of carcinogens include, but aren’t limited to, tobacco, asbestos, arsenic, radiation such as x-rays, the sun, toxic chemicals in our household products, and compounds in car exhaust fumes. When our bodies are exposed to carcinogens, free radicals are formed, which then damage our cells and affect their ability to function and divide normally.

Tobacco smoking is a well-known leading cause of lung cancer. About 87% of lung cancers are caused by smoking and inhaling the carcinogens from tobacco smoke. Lung cancer risk for a regular smoker is dramatically higher. This also warns us, especially non-smokers, of a health threat, because exposure to second-hand smoke can damage cells and lead to the development of cancer.

To prevent lung cancer, two main rules are to quit smoking if you smoke and avoid passive smoking. These are in your power. They are the most important preventive measures anybody can take.

Lung cancer takes several years to reach a level where symptoms show and the sufferer decides to seek medical help. Although approved screening tests for lung cancer do not exist currently, I have put together a picture of how new technologies are offering hope to fight lung cancer.

Possible lung cancer screening tests include:

  •   analysis of sputum cells
  •   fiber-optic examination of bronchial passages (bronchoscopy)
  •   low-dose CT scans, which have proven effective in screening for lung cancer in high-risk populations.

Other work in progress includes:

  •   detection of circulating cancer cells (identified as “sentinel” cells) by blood test, making early detection and intervention possible.
  •   a breathalyser device that will be able to detect very early signs of cancer, intended to catch patients before they start getting symptoms.
  •   A highly sensitive technology using blood plasma samples that can detect elevated levels of a specific molecule (microRNA molecule) in people with lung cancer through a nanopore sensor.

Furthermore, lung cancer may modify metabolic processes. Research findings reveal that 149 out of 534 metabolites showed significant changes in lung cancer patients. This means that a metabolic profile provides the potential to develop a diagnostic test for lung cancer. Collectively, all of the above approaches to screening will help reduce the enormous burden of lung cancer mortality.

In summary, sad figures, hard facts, key measures, and real hope are all worth reflecting on during Lung Cancer Awareness Month.


Image credit: By David Petrovay

Occupational and Environmental Chemicals linked to Lung Cancer

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Hazard smoking and passive smoking are well-known contributors to lung cancer. However, an overlooked risk factor is stemmed from cancer-causing substances in the workplace, communities or larger environment, and even at home. Vehicular smoke, industrial materials, toxic chemicals, fumes and exhaust are all kinds of environmental pollutants. The question is – at what level are you exposed to?

Everyday exposure in the workplace is a serious concern, because the exposure to harmful substances at high levels and over a long period of time can be a lethal threat to your health. Today, I’m helping you understand what common occupational substances may increase your risk of lung cancer, and how you can protect yourself and your family.

First, what to raise your awareness?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has identified several occupational materials/agents as lung carcinogens or possible carcinogens to human. Numerous research has established the link between an increased risk of lung cancer and excessive exposure to common occupational materials.

Occupational and/or environmental substances associated with lung cancer include:

  • Asbestos
  • Radon
  • Chromium
  • Formaldehyde
  • Nickel
  • Arsenic
  • Silica
  • Coal gasification
  • Tars
  • Soot
  • Diesel fumes
  • Radiation

For the general population, although the exposure levels to most of these agents are likely insufficient to produce serious health damage, it is wise to become informed and cautious.

Second, how to protect you from potential lung carcinogens?

Top Ten Tips:

  1. Keep informed, especially know what you are exposed to in the workplace and what you can do to protect yourself.
  2. Always wear protective clothing, items and equipment as occupational safety requires.
  3. Read the labels and follow the instructions. This is important whenever and wherever you handle chemical-containing products.
  4. Stick to the rules or regulations on dealing with hazard wastes.
  5. Make sure that your employer is aware of certain job-related potential danger to human health and have protective measurements in place.
  6. Take your shoes off at the door to avoid tracking potential toxins from the bottom of the shoes around your home.
  7. If necessary, separate your work clothing from those of the family when doing laundry.
  8. Take precautions about the chemicals you use in your home.
  9. Check radon levels in your house. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines “high exposure” to radon as its level being 4 pCi/L and above.
  10. Avoid or limit unnecessary radiation exposure.

These practices are particularly imperative to people who are already at risk for lung cancer, including, but not limited to, those

  • with previous lung diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and chlamydia pneumonia
  • with a family history of lung cancer
  • with lowered immunity
  • Smokers and second-hand (or passive) smokers

Finally, early detection is a key. If you experience any symptoms such as frequent cough, breathing difficulty, wheezing, chest pain, or unexplained weight loss, consult your doctor.

If this is helpful, please share. Thanks.

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Lung Cancer Killer: Not about Facts, But about Actions

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

4 hands tightened_best-beginnings-alaska.orgLung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among both men and women in the United States and worldwide.

Smoking is the killer in approximately 90% of men and 80% of women who have died of lung cancer.

Did I tell you something new? Likely not.

But why do smokers still smoke? And why did the world fail to prevent lung cancer by stopping tobacco use?

Lung cancer is a horrible disease. It develops sneakily and rapidly. It is very difficult to detect lung cancer at early stages with current technologies. This disease is often deadly with poor prognosis once diagnosed.

Lung cancer claims an estimated 1.4 million lives each year worldwide. NCI estimated 228,190 new cases and 159,480 deaths from lung cancer (non-small cell and small cell combined) in the United States in 2013. As a result, lung cancer has changed so many people’s lives including smokers, non-smokers and their loved ones.

Paradoxically, lung cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Specifically, the most important, effective preventive measures are cessation of cigarette smoking and elimination of tobacco exposure. I am sure we all want to end this tragedy. Why has the change happened?

All kinds of tobacco products including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or pipe tobacco are addictive, hazardous and harmful. No tobacco product is safe, period. Tobacco use contributes to not only lung cancer, but also cancer of various types, cardiovascular disease, mouth problems, and other illnesses.

The number one things a person can do to prevent lung cancer is to not start smoking, or to quit if he or she currently smokes. A majority of smokers start as adolescents, most of them seek to fit in with “a crowd”. As life goes on, the crowd is gone, but the habit and damage continue. Therefore, boys and girls do not start smoking. And fit in for your long-term wellbeing. Smokers can be addicted to tobacco, which is not an excuse. For a smoker, quitting immediately can benefit yourself and make the world around you a better place. Remember: it is never too late to stop.

Non-smokers should avoid secondhand smoke by all means. Smoke exhaled from a smoker or a lit cigarette contains over 60 known carcinogens (i.e. cancer-causing agents) along with hundreds of other toxins.

Women are highly susceptible to lung cancer. Research shows that tobacco smoking may double a woman’s risk for lung cancer, because it has as twice of carcinogenic effect on a woman as on a man.

Everybody, from spouses, family members and friends, educators, doctors and nurses, to every organization, every industry, and of course, government or policy makers, can step in to prevent lung cancer especially when the cause is quite clear. We all can do something to help change the world and lives of many, many, for good.


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Why Is Smoking Stressful?

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Smokers may feel relaxed or even peaceful with cigarettes, but their bodies tell different stories.

A cigarette releases more than 7000 chemicals and millions of free radicals, among them about 70 are carcinogens (i.e. cancer-causing substances). These harmful agents speed up aging, cause cell mutation and DNA damage, consequently abnormal cells grow out of control. As a result, smoking initiates oxidative stress or chemo-toxin attack to your body,

Smoking or use of tobacco has been pointed to one of the leading causes of mouth cancer, and contributed to estimated 90% of oral cancers in men and 60% of oral cancers in women. Moreover, smoking increases the risk of cancers of lung, bladder, cervix, kidney, colon, breast, prostate, esophagus, and pancreas.

Smoking and tobacco products make the lumen of blood vessels narrow, reduce blood flow, elevate blood pressure, and cause fat buildups and hardening of blood vessels, leading to heart attack and stroke…

Given the enormous health hazard produced by cigarette smoking, your body is basically stressed out!

The impact of passive smoking (secondhand smoking) on health is alarming. Passive smoking has been linked to an increased risk for cancer. Three epidemiological studies showed an increased risk of lung cancer for non-smoking wives having smoking husbands, according to Bos and Henderson on “Genotoxic risk of passive smoking” (1984).

Do you know how parental smoking may affect children? Research has shown that passive smoking in childhood might be associated with persistent or permanent endothelial dysfunction, i.e. impaired function of endothelial cells that are lining on the surface of blood vessels and in direct contact with blood. Endothelial dysfunction is an initial stage of atherosclerosis and other chronic cardiovascular disorders. Clearly, passive smoking can be an active threat for your cardiovascular system.

Smoking is a risk factor for a variety of cancers and cardiovascular diseases, but is a preventable cause. It is urgent to stop active smoking and limit passive smoking by all means. Learn more how to quit smoking

Image credit: by kodakgold

Early Detection of Lung Cancer: What’s New and Who’s at Risk?

A year ago this month, my father died of lung cancer. He was a non-smoker, did not consume alcohol, and lived a healthy lifestyle. From the time he was diagnosed to the time of his passing, it was less than two and half months. Sadly, like my father, countless individuals are at an advanced stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis, ending up with little time.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Patients with lung cancer are often symptomless yet have poor prognosis. In contrast to advances in the screening of breast, prostate and colon cancer, progress with early detection of lung cancer is falling behind.

Update on lung cancer screening

Currently, there is no well-accepted routine for lung cancer screening. Lung cancer is diagnosed mainly by:
1. Chest X-ray: less effective at an early stage, and less costly.
2. Computed Tomography (CT): significantly more sensitive than chest X-ray for identifying lung cancer when it’s small and asymptomatic; however, it’s expansive, and not feasible for large population screening. Due to its sensitivity, of course, abnormalities revealed by CT scan are not all cancerous.

Other tests and promising methods include (but are not limited to):
1. Sputum cytology: used to check mucus brought up from the lungs by coughing;
2. Biopsy for area(s) of abnormality: effective though risky;
3. Lung cancer biomarkers: Although numerous biomarkers for lung cancer have been studied, their specificity and sensitivity are disappointing clinically.
4. Auto-fluorescence bronchoscopy: used to help detect mucosal changes of early lesions that may appear subtle on normal bronchoscopy;
5. Molecular screening for transformation of bronchial epithelial cells.

Advances in lung cancer screening are still underway. Despite the problems with various tests, early detection can be a life-saving decision, particularly for people at higher risks.

Lung cancer risk factors include:

-  Cigarette/tobacco smoking (a major risk factor)
-  passive smoking
-  family or personal history of lung cancer
-  lung diseases (e.g. pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis)
-  radon exposure
-  asbestos exposure
-  environmental pollution
-  certain occupational exposures (e.g. arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot, and tar)
-  age over 65 years old

Who’s at the highest risk?

Although not everybody who has ever smoked should be over concerned with early detection, individuals with combined risk factors should certainly be encouraged to be proactive. These could include: former or current smokers who actually have incurred damage from their smoking, individuals who have prior history of cancer (even cured), patients who have any lung disease or have been exposed to asbestos or have family history of cancer. These folks are at increased risk for the development of lung cancer. The risk from air pollution is higher for all smokers. Furthermore, given an equal amount of tobacco exposure, women are at higher risk for developing lung cancer than men.

A dose of wisdom

Early detection of cancer is like the timely discovery of a weak yet critical part of a machine. Just as, for instance, your car benefits from fixing the problem early, so does your body.

To learn more information about Lung cancer, check out this booklet:
What do you need to know about lung cancer?