For years, anti-smoking campaigns have touted the same message – Smoking Causes Lung Cancer. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any American unaware of the strong link between the two. However, during November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to highlight some lesser-known facts about lung cancer and smoking that can still have a big impact on your health.

SMOKING CAUSES LUNG CANCER…BUT NOT ALL LUNG CANCER IS CAUSED BY SMOKING

According to the American Cancer Society, while cigarette smoking is by far the most important risk factor for developing lung cancer, smoking accounts for 87 percent of lung cancer deaths. This means that there are thousands of people diagnosed with lung cancer each year who have never smoked. Other lesser-known risk factors for lung cancer include exposure to secondhand smoke as well as ongoing exposure to asbestos, certain metals like arsenic and air pollution.

Genetics can also make you more susceptible to developing lung cancer, especially in those who develop the disease at a younger age. People who are more genetically prone to the disease should be extra cautious and reduce exposure to carcinogens as much as possible.

SCREENING EXAMS ARE NOT AVAILABLE FOR LUNG CANCER

Mammograms help detect breast cancer, but for lung cancer there isn’t a specific screening test. However, recent studies suggest that CT scans can be a valuable screening tool that helps detect lung cancer at early, more treatable stages. This research could lead to an approved screening test in the near future.

It’s important to watch for early signs and symptoms of lung cancer and make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience any of the following:

Persistent cough or hoarseness of voice

Deep chest pain or shoulder or upper-back pain

Shortness of breath or wheezing

Reddened, rust-colored or bloody phlegm

Recurrent respiratory infections, like pneumonia or bronchitis

Weight loss or lack of appetite

Abnormal breast growth in men

Many of these symptoms can indicate a number of other conditions, but they can also be signs of lung cancer. It’s important to trust your gut – if you are not feeling right, don’t hesitate to consult your physician.

TOBACCO USE CAUSES MORE THAN LUNG CANCER

In the United States, the leading cause of preventable illness and death is tobacco use, according to the National Cancer Institute. In addition to lung cancer, smoking can cause numerous other types of cancer including bladder, cervical, esophageal, kidney, lip, larynx, mouth, acute myeloid leukemia, nasal cavity, pancreatic, sinuses, stomach and throat cancer. Smoking also contributes to heart disease, emphysema, bronchitis and stomach ulcers.

MANY STATES BAN SMOKING TO PROTECT RESIDENTS’ HEALTH

The most important thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking or distance yourself from those who do. A Center for Disease Control report released this year said that the number of states with comprehensive indoor smoking bans went from zero in 2000 to 26 in 2010, and in 10 more years, the entire nation could be covered by smoking bans in workplaces, bars and restaurants.

Texas does not currently have a comprehensive smoking ban in place. The Texas Legislature considered a statewide ban on smoking in public places this year, but the measure wasn’t passed. Only three southern states – Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina – have laws banning smoking in any two of the three venues (workplaces, restaurants and bars), and no southern state has a smoke-free law covering all three. If Texas were to pass a comprehensive statewide smoke-free law, the measure would be expected to save an estimated $31 million in state Medicaid costs over two years.

In the absence of a smoking ban, avoid indoor areas, like sports bars and restaurants, that have a high-concentration of smoker. This includes cigar and pipe smoke, which also increase the risk of lung cancer.

For more information on the links between lung cancer and smoking, please visit www.TexasOncology.com.

By Dr. Nurul Wahid is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–McAllen, 1901 South Second Street in McAllen, Texas.

By Nurul Wahid, M.D.,