LUNG CANCER: risk factors, symptoms and preventive measures

Lung cancer is the most common cancer globally, accounting for 13% of incident cancers. It is also the preeminent cause of cancer deaths, with a death toll of about 1.4 million in 2008 according to research done by Globocan.

Lung cancer incidence rate is higher in Europe and Africa. However, reports reveal that there have been significant reductions in lung cancer mortality in western countries. This is due to increased awareness of the harmful effects of smoking tobacco and other risk factors that increase one’s chances of contracting the disease.

Different stories are seen in most African countries, as there has been an upsurge in the incidence and mortality rates. It affects both sexes. Males’ incidence rate is higher than female, out of 30,314 cases reported in 2012, 78% were males and 22% were females in Africa according to Globocan.



Smoking of tobacco, cannabis, harshi and snuff are the main factors that predispose one to lung cancer. Cigarette smoke is known to contain about 70,000 substances of which 70 are carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) such as polycyclic hydrocarbons and nitrosamines.

Lung Cancer and smoking and effects
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Cigarette smoke damages and can kill hair-like structures on airway cells (cilia). The cilia normally sweep out toxins, viruses, and bacteria. When the cilia become damaged or destroyed by smoke, all of these items (carcinogens) may accumulate in the lungs and may cause problems such as infections or lung cancer.

About 90% of lung cancer occurs in smokers. The risk of developing lung cancer is related to the intensity of exposure or Pack years. Passive smoking or the intake of tobacco smoke by non-smokers who have living or working quarters with smokers also is an established risk factor for the development of lung cancer.

Research has shown that non-smokers who cohabit with a smoker have a 24% increase in risk for developing lung cancer when compared with non-smokers who do not reside with a smoker.

The risk appears to increase with the degree of exposure (number of years exposed and the number of cigarettes smoked by the household partner) to second-hand smoke

Occupational risk

Exposure to substances like asbestos, dusty conditions, iron, nickel, radon and silica in the working area also increases one’s chance of having cancer of the lungs especially when the appropriate personal protective equipment is not worn or used.

Environmental risk

It occurs when things that surround us, predispose people in having lung cancer at a faster rate.

For instances poor ventilation of places of rest, burning of coal or wood in the air, heavy fumes from the exhaust of vehicles, the use of solid household fuels in cooking and heating, dust from untarred road and exposure of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. Smoke from some of these activities contain oxides of nitrogen and carbon particulates that can be irritants and can predispose individual in having lung cancer.


The invasion of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses in the lungs can lead to cancer of the lungs. Examples of such infections are HIV and Bronchitis.

Radiation: Frequent exposure to radiating material in the chest area such as high dose rays from x-ray machines can lead to cancer of the lungs especially in smokers.

microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses in the lungs
Microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses in the lungs can be dangerous


Signs and symptoms are usually not seen in the early stages of the disease until it has developed into the advanced stage where treatment and management become less effective. A person in the advanced stage may experience;

  1. Unusual cough that persists for long.
  2. Coughing up blood, even a small amount
  3. Chest pain
  4. Shortness of breath


Cessation of smoking and eliminating exposure to tobacco smoke is the most important measure that can prevent lung cancer.

This can be achieved by; no smoking for non-smokers, quitting smoking for smokers, ban on public smoking and enforcement of the law bidding it, to protect the innocent non-smokers from some smokers’ transient pleasure of a puff, that comes with a heavy long-term price.

Lung Cancer

It has been estimated that after a person has quit smoking for 10 years, the risk of lung cancer decreases by 30% to 50%. Lung cancer prevention can also be done by screening.

One is advised to have screening once in a while, which is not a routine procedure in our country. This could stem from the perception that ‘once one can go about one’s daily activities, he or she is ok’. The perception is a bad idea that must be eschewed.

The purpose of screening is to test for a disease when there is no symptoms or history of the disease. Doctors usually advise individual especially adult (40 years and above) to have a screening of the lungs at least once in a year, as early detection usually results in effective treatment.

Low dose computed tomography (CT scan) is usually the recommended screening test for lung cancer. Also, it is prudent for individuals to engage in activities that reduce one’s risk of developing the malady.

Lung Cancer prevention - exercising
Lung Cancer prevention – exercising

Eating of fruits and vegetables and regular exercising. Personal protective equipment like nose masks and visors must be worn by workers that come into contact with hazardous chemicals in the various industrial site, roads in various towns and villages must be tarred or watered frequently to protect individuals from dust, vehicles that produce fumes in their exhaust should be ban from plighting on various roads in the country.

Eat Fruits

The fight for the eradication of lung cancer is the duty of everyone so let’s all get involved, Let’s stop it before it kills us.

Write up by

Nkansah Edward,

 Intern, Central Lab.

 Korlebu Teaching Hospital

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