Category Archives: Lung cancer

Johns Hopkins study: Fracking may be releasing lung cancer-causing radon

 

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Radon is behind tobacco the No. 2 environmental factor in causing lung cancer. It’s estimated that radon in homes results in 15,000 to 22,000 deaths a year in the U.S.

A disturbing new study from Johns Hopkins University found that radon concentrations in Pennsylvania homes near fracking areas have radon concentrations 39 percent higher than those in non-fracking areas. Great. With all the other negative effects of fracking, ruining people’s wells and water supplies, etc., it also releases a cancer-causing element.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, took more than 2 million radon readings between 1987 and 2013 in 860,000 buildings. Wow, seriously extensive.

The study did not find a direct link between the fracking and radon releases, but it’s a pretty easy conclusion that that link exists — 39 percent increase in radon is eyebrow-raising.

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We’ve turned a big corner in lung cancer in the U.S. The lung cancer death rate among men have been dropping steadily for 30 years and the death rate for women started to drop (albeit more slowly) about 15 years ago — mostly because far fewer people are smoking obviously. We don’t need more fracking to put a dent in that trend.

 

 

Medicare will now cover lung cancer screenings

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You mean they weren’t already? Seriously? Isn’t preventing disease a lot cheaper and more efficient than treating it?

Anyway, Medicare today announced that it will begin covering lung cancer screening tests. Catching lung cancer early — <i>very</i> early — has long been known as the best way to combat it.

Medicare will pay for annual lung cancer screenings for people aged 55-77 who are current smokers or quit within the past 15 years (Me, the flaming Socialist, says free lung cancer screenings for everyone over 55, since 15 percent of the people who get lung cancer never once smoked a cigarette.)

From the NBC article:

“It will save tens of thousands of lives,” says Laurie Fenton Ambrose, president and CEO of the Lung Cancer Alliance.

“We think it’s a transformative moment for our community.”

The screenings cost $250 to $300 per person and would likely save 20 percent of the people who get lung cancer. Before you think that’s a trivial amount, remember 158,000 people a year get lung cancer in the U.S. — that translates into 31,500 lives a year saved. That’s a city the size of Monterey, Calif., saved each year.

These screenings will cost Medicare $9 billion a year, or $3 a month per each Medicare beneficiary.

The article acknowledges that nonsmokers are left out of the Medicare coverage, but that efforts are ongoing to cover everyone with occupational or genetic risks.

Cancer death rate keeps dropping; lung cancer death rate way down

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Good news. The cancer death rate in the U.S. continues to drop, well down from its peak in 1991, according to the American Cancer Society.

According to the ACS, between the 20-year period from 1991 to 2011, the cancer death rate dropped 22 percent in the U.S. For one big main reason — the decline of smoking and smoking-related lung cancers among men (Remember, lung cancer is far away the most deadly cancer; roughly 25 percent of all cancer deaths are from lung cancer alone.).

According to the ACS, the rate of lung cancer deaths among U.S. men dropped a whopping 36 percent from 1990 to 2011. Among women, the decline hasn’t been as dramatic, unfortunately (in fact, lung cancer deaths for women actually went up quite a few years in the 1990s.). From 2002 to 2011, the lung cancer death rate for women dropped 11 percent in the U.S.

Breast, prostate and colon cancer death rates also dropped.

The decline of lung cancer deaths hasn’t been as dramatic in the South, because these states tend to have high smoking rates. For instance, the number of lung cancer deaths in Kentucky is three times the rate as in Utah, which has the lowest smoking rate in the U.S.

Lung cancer silences another great voice — Joe Cocker dies

 

Joe Cocker died Dec. 22 of lung cancer. He was 70 years old.

Cocker is mostly known for his gravelly voice, unusual spastic performing style and a string of big hits in the 70s and 80s (“You Are So Beautiful” and “Up Where We Belong”), and of course his incendiary version of “A Little Help From My Friends” at Woodstock. He was also known to be the target of a spot-on hilarious parody by John Belushi.

Joe Cocker

Back in the day, Cocker was almost as legendary for his heavy drinking and heroin use as he was for his music. Ironic that the alcohol and drugs didn’t kill him … lung cancer did. His good friend George Harrison also died of lung cancer several years ago.

 

Of course, not that it completely matters, and I hesitate to even go here .. but he did smoke (and this blog is about the dangers of tobacco), though he says he quit in 1991. Here is a passage from a 2000 newspaper interview (and a surprisingly large part of this article is about Joe’s smoking):

Joe Cocker in his prime must have made Joe Camel proud.

“I used to smoke about 40 a day at one time — cigarettes,” says the blue-eyed British growler, the clarifier hinting at a past full of ingestible vices.

Some left marks on a voice already famous for texture. A typical Cocker hit — 1969’s Feelin’ Alright, 1975’s You Are So Beautiful, 1990’s When the Night Comes — sounded heart-wrenching and pipe-wrenching, too. That style, a throat full of soul, turned r&b and rock covers into classics.

But a fine line separates nicely ravaged from shot. Cocker, who opens for Tina Turner on Wednesday at the National Car Rental Center, didn’t want to cross that line if he planned to keep singing.

“I quit [smoking] about nine years ago,” says the Sheffield, England, native, “and that’s made a world of difference.”

I hope Joe and John are sharing a Guinness together right now.

NBC News: The continuing stigma of lung cancer and lack of funding for lung cancer research

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NBC News/Courtesy of Emily Bennett Taylor — Emily Bennett Taylor and her husband Miles in 2013, celebrating NED or “no evidence of disease.” Today, Emily Bennett Taylor is cancer-free after chemotherapy, lung surgery and radiation.

This is a really heartbreaking story. There is a stigma surrounding lung cancer like no other cancer which is reflected in the lack of funding for lung cancer research compared to breast cancer and other kinds of cancer.

The reason why is pretty obvious: “Well, people who get lung cancer did it to themselves.”

There you have it in a nutshell. The feeling that people with lung cancer somehow “asked for it,” whereas people with other kinds of cancer did not. Because as we all know, the bulk of lung cancer cases happens among smokers.

NBC News did a big story on this today, focusing to a large degree on lung cancer among women. First of all, about 20 percent of women who get lung cancer have never smoked a cigarette in their lives (and roughly 10 percent of men).

Here’s a couple of shocking stats from NBC:

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Lung Cancer Alliance, for every person who dies of breast cancer, $26,000 is spent on research funds, yet less than $1,500 is allocated for those who die of lung cancer.

Activist Arielle Densen lost her mother, a nonsmoker, to lung cancer, and is on a mission to bring awareness to the issue during November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

“The statistics on lung cancer are so staggering and so many young, non-smoking individuals are dying from this disease and no one is really talking about it,” Densen said.

“If you factor in private donations, the funding gap widens incredibly,” she said. “Susan G. Komen alone raised $428 million in 2012; whereas the largest lung cancer groups bring in about $3 to $4 million a year.”

Those attitudes that people with lung cancer “did it to themselves” and “asked for it,” is directly reflected in the lack of funding for research. Christ, Susan G. Komen (breast cancer) brings in 100 times more than the largest lung cancer fundraising group? I don’t want to get into a “what’s worse, breast cancer or lung cancer?” debate because all cancer sucks, but this is a shocking number to me.

From NBC:

“One of the big problems is there is such a big association in the public’s mind between smoking and lung cancer,” said Dr. Lecia Sequist, a medical oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“No one deserves to get lung cancer,” Sequist added. “But we are seeing a lot of patients who never smoked or smoked years ago or only in small amounts. We just don’t know why.”

Keep in mind that even though fewer women than men get lung cancer, lung cancer is still the No. 1 cancer killer among women (It’s been the runaway No. 1 cancer killer among men for decades.) 108,000 women in the U.S. get lung cancer every year, and about 72,000 of them die from it, according to NBC.

Interestingly, doctors in the article say they are seeing more lung cancer cases among nonsmokers. No one knows why. It could be other poisons in the environment. One thing to keep in mind about lung cancer — lung cancer is both a genetic disease and an environmental disease. If you have certain gene markers, smoker or not, your risk of lung cancer is increased, so you don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer (However, if you have those gene markers and you smoke, your chances of getting lung cancer are really high. )

I hate that this stigma is still around and how much it affects funding for lung cancer cures. It’s painful that one of the first questions people ask when someone dies of lung cancer is “oh, did they smoke?” (And yes, on this blog, I have been guilty of focusing on smokers who have died from lung cancer, it’s not 100 percent, but it’s still 85 percent — the No.  1 risk factor by a longshot for lung cancer is and will continue to be smoking.).

Remember, anyone that has watched someone die of lung cancer — no one deserves that. And no one asked for it.

NBC, CNN go all out on smoking this weekend

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For the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s watershed report on smoking and lung cancer, both NBC News and CNN had for a time last weekend smoking as their top stories. Imagine my excitement seeing cigarette smoking dominating the top of both websites with so many other stories going on — Ariel Sharon’s death, Bridgegate, West Virginia, etc.

(Hey, doesn’t that Bing window look like a cigarette?)

Anyway, NBC’s take on the issue was to look at, yes the smoking rate in the U.S. has been reduced greatly since 1964, from 43 percent to 19 percent, but can it ever be reduced to 0?

Several experts weighed in. One idea was to raise the minimum age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21. Another one, by Michael Fiore of the University of Wisconsin, is a two-pronged approach of “hard-hitting public policy. At the same time, we need the ready availability of treatments for smokers.”

Yes, I agree. Treatment should be available and covered by insurance, be it patches, Nicotine gum, or even Chantix or e-cigs (and I’m not wild about the last two, in fact, I’m not positive any health care officials consider e-cigs a “treatment.”)

NBC also cited a Harvard study stating that smoking has killed 17.7 million people in the U.S. between 1964 and 2012 (So, when I call it a “holocaust,” I am not screwing around — 17.7 million people is a holocaust.

Also mentioned in the NBC article. How to stop smoking? Stop it before people start, before nicotine’s incredible addictiveness takes hold. 88 percent of smokers begin smoking before they turned 18. Education, education, education, is the way to stop smoking.

Ah, the NBC article also talks about how the $180 billion from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement is not being used properly to combat smoking. Instead that money is being used by states simply to help balance their general funds. States are receiving $8 billion a year from the settlement, but are only spending $640 million a year on tobacco control.

A good article from NBC News, that touches broadly on most of the major issues surrounding tobacco control.

 CNN story on smoking — Why do people still smoke?

I like CNN’s angle, too. CNN asks the question of when people know how bad smoking is for you, why do they still smoke? The answer, according to CNN, a “portrait of defiance.

CNN dug up a portrait site on smokers (Oh, man, I have to do a separate post on this site with the photog’s permission, hopefully). The photographer, Laura Noel, said that:

While shooting these portraits, she noticed the age difference among smokers. Young smokers, she said, enjoy it with a kind of practiced defiance. “You see a little more of the addiction when people get older.”

The CNN story makes a great point. The whole argument that smoking is a “personal choice” becomes complete bullshit when the smoker is no longer making the choice to smoke — the nicotine is in control. It stops being “choice” when addiction takes hold. (The tobacco industry long ago abandoned the battle trying to fight the evidence that smoking is deadly and has instead adopted a Libertarian coda that it’s personal choice. I’ve had two or three Libertarian trolls stink up this blog with their “personal choice” bullshit, too. And, oh by the way, of course, none of them were actual smokers. :roll:)

“Smokers typically start smoking as adolescents or young adults, with initial smoking occurring in social situations,” said Sherry McKee, the director of the Yale Behavioral Pharmacology Lab. “Most young smokers believe that they can easily quit at any time and nearly all believe that they won’t be long-term smokers.”

“Ultimately, they will lose their capacity to make a free choice to smoke,” said Jed Rose, the director of the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation in North Carolina. “Then 30 years later, that’s when we typically see them in our program desperately trying to quit, because now they can’t go a single day without (a cigarette).”

And one final point in the CNN story, something I actually learned. I never really thought of this, but it makes sense. The addiction to smoking is more than just the chemical components of nicotine, it has to do with the smoking behaviour.

“The chemicals in cigarettes work on the structures deep within a smoker’s brain, literally rewiring it so the habit becomes deeply ingrained,” said Rose.

With drugs like cocaine, there can be extreme discomfort from withdrawal in those first few days, but it goes away. “The behavior addiction of smoking may be far more compelling than just the short-term withdrawal symptoms of a hard drug,” he said.

That means smokers may be more addicted to the smoking behaviors than the nicotine.

“Every move a smoker makes: the lighting of the cigarette, the inhaling, all the feelings and sensations of it, the whole package becomes highly addictive,” Rose said.

 

Good news everyone! Cancer death rate drops 20 percent in 20 years; Lung cancer death rate down 34 percent

professor farnsworthI wrote about this several months ago. The cancer death rate in the U.S. has dropped dramatically in the past few years, especially for lung cancer.

Three reasons:

1) Better treatment

2) Better detection

and a big one

3) a drop in the smoking rate

According to this study from the American Cancer Society:

An estimated 1.7 million new cancer cases are projected for 2014, including some 586,000 deaths, according to the new report from the American Cancer Society. And cancer remains the second-most common cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease.

The good news in those grim figures is that the rate of death from cancer has fallen from about 25 per every 10,000 people in 1991 to about 17 per 10,000 in 2010. That translates into about 1.3 million cancer deaths avoided, including nearly 953,000 men and nearly 388,000 women.

Lung cancer remains the top killer for both sexes, followed by prostate cancer for men and breast cancer for women. But largely because of declines in smoking, the lung cancer death rate dropped by 34 percent in 20 years.

I’ve actually had this argument with some smokers’ rights idiots, claiming “why is lung cancer going up if smoking rates are going down.” Well, I will have to remember this link if I ever run into another one. Lung cancer death rate down 34 percent in 20 years awesome. Lung cancer used to be pretty much a death sentence, less than 20 percent survival rate, but that’s improved dramatically in the last 20 years due to better treatment and better detection.

I also wonder if another factor if a higher percentage of people getting lung cancer are people getting lung cancer NOT caused by smoking. Remember, not all lung cancer is caused by smoking — about 15 percent of the people who get lung cancer never smoked a cigarette in their lives. And smoking is believed to cause a specific kind of lung cancer. There are other forms of lung cancer that don’t appear to be tied to smoking. So that could be a factor, too. Perhaps because of fewer smokers and fewer people getting lung cancer, period, that 15 percent figure has become higher. And these other forms of lung cancer may be more treatable than the cancer caused by smoking. Just a thought. No proof or evidence, just speculation.

The stigma of lung cancer — do smokers “deserve” lung cancer? (No!)

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A very interesting opinion piece that I can personally relate to, about the continuing stigma of lung cancer.

I have on a number of occasions no matter how incredibly hard I try to bend over backward to not attack smokers or act superior to smokers either online or in real life, been accused of being down on smokers. I think part of this is because many smokers deep down inside put up with constant stigma over their smoking and frankly, get understandably defensive about it, because hey, we all have some bad habits and none of us are perfect.

Anyway, that stigma also applies to lung cancer. Lung cancer is the most deadly form of cancer; more people die of lung cancer in the U.S. than the next four types of cancer — combined. Smoking is in fact the primary cause of lung cancer — about 85 percent of the people who get lung cancer are either smokers or former smokers.

But, that also means that 15 percent of those people with lung cancer are nonsmokers (20 percent of women who get lung cancer are nonsmokers). Lung cancer not only has an environmental component, it has a genetic component. There is a reason why only 10 percent of smokers die of lung cancer. It’s bad luck+a bad habit.

Dr. Lecia V. Sequist, (a medical oncologist at  Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, an associate professor of medicine Harvard Medical School. and a member of the LUNGevity Foundation Scientific Advisory Board), writes on CNN.com, about the stigma of lung cancer and the mentality of that people who die of lung cancer “did it to themselves.” The stigma has resulted in a lot of grant monies and donations going toward finding cures for cancers other than lung cancer.

It’s something I can relate to because I have been very guilty of hearing about someone dying of lung cancer, and then immediately blurting out, “were they a smoker?” I really, really try not to do that anymore.

Dr. Sequist writes:

Tell a friend or colleague that your aunt just found out she has lung cancer. Almost always the response will be, “Did she smoke?” Then tell someone else that your aunt just found out she has breast cancer, or colon cancer, or any other type of cancer you can think of. This time the response will be pure sympathy, without any blame attached.

I don’t think people necessarily do this for a bad reason. I think it’s a normal reaction of “well it couldn’t happen to me … I don’t smoke.”

This is interesting, according to to Dr. Sequist, (and I have never seen these numbers before and am still digesting them) 60 percent of new lung cancer cases are among nonsmokers and former smokers — not current smokers. Wow, that a high number (remember that 15 percent number I quoted earlier). What that tells me is a lot of people are acknowledging that smoking is really bad for them, quitting, and then 10 years later being diagnosed with lung cancer. That is one of the cruelties of lung cancer. Even if you do the right thing and quit, your risk of lung cancer decreases … but it is still higher than a person who never smoked.

And as far as how smoking is affecting funding, this paragraph from Dr. Sequist:

Unfortunately, the stigma associated with lung cancer has translated to a massive inequality in research funding. When analyzing the combined 2012 cancer research dollars granted by federal organizations, for every woman who dies of breast cancer, more than $26,000 in federal research funding is devoted to breast cancer research. But for every woman who dies of lung cancer, just over $1,000 federal dollars are invested. The difference is staggering.

So, basically breast cancer is receiving 26 times more funding per cancer case than lung cancer among women. Wow.

As far as the attitude that people who smoke and die and lung cancer getting what they deserve, all I can say is how is your glass house? Are you overweight? Do you drink? Smoke pot? Take prescription drugs? Last perfect person died 2,000 years ago. (Even on this article, there is some snot-nosed troll spending hours pissing on smokers with lung cancer. One of the reasons I don’t comment on CNN stories.)

I watched my dad slowly drown in his own bodily fluids at the age of 49. I can’t imagine a worse way to go, honestly. No one deserves that. No one. Not Adolph Hitler, not anyone. So, no, no one “deserves” lung cancer.

The lung cancer and nicotine genes

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Yesterday I mentioned the “lung cancer gene.” This is interesting stuff to me, and exciting for a potential cure to lung cancer, the No. 1 cancer killer.

Several years ago, researchers isolated a gene mutation that appears to mark whether you are at risk for lung cancer.

One of the most exasperating arguments I’ve ever had with smokers, both in real life and online, is “if smoking causes lung cancer than why don’t all smokers get lung cancer?”

It’s a weak excuse to keep smoking. I remember having that very argument with my mom 30 years ago when my dad died of lung cancer. But, they’re right in that only about 10 percent of smokers ever develop lung cancer. This lung cancer gene mutation could explain why and many other things.

Here’s how it works, keep in mind that 15 percent of the people who get lung cancer (and 20 percent of women who get lung cancer), never smoked a cigarette in their lives. Why do some nonsmokers get lung cancer and most smokers don’t?

It’s been long known that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer by literally screwing up the DNA of the cells in the smoker’s lungs. Why do 10 percent of smokers have their DNA messed up and not all smokers?

In 2008, it was announced that there appeared to be a genetic mutation behind lung cancer. If you have this genetic mutation, you are at increased risk to lung cancer even if you are a non-smoker. I’ve read that your risk is something like 30 to 80 percent higher than a nonsmoker without the gene.

If you have this genetic mutation and you smoke, you are at extreme risk for lung cancer. One article I read long ago (can’t find it now), suggested that your odds of getting lung cancer are 50-50.

If you do not have this mutation, smoke ’em if you got ’em, because you will likely NEVER develop lung cancer … however, this gene mutation has no effect on your chances of getting COPD or heart disease or other kinds of cancer from smoking. So, really, you’re just dodging one out of a potentially large number of bullets.

If you do not have this mutation and do not smoke, your chances of ever getting lung cancer are astronomically low. Unless you’re breathing radioactive isotopes, you don’t even need to worry about it. You’re probably more at risk for being hit by lightning.

This gene might also have something to do with why marijuana smokers do not appear to be at increased risk for lung cancer while cigarette smokers are.

This is where the genetic issue gets even trippier. Not only does there appear to be a gene that makes certain people more susceptible to lung cancer, there also appears to be a gene that also makes some people more susceptible to addiction to nicotine. That could explain why some people can quit smoking while others cannot. It really has nothing to do with willpower. Some extremely strong-willed people simply cannot kick the nicotine, while others can do it and never look back. It might be genetic.  What’s really weird are studies suggesting that the same gene mutation might be responsible for both increasing the risk of lung cancer and the susceptibility to nicotine addiction. Trippy stuff.

How people evolved with these genetic markers triggered by tobacco is beyond me. Tobacco in its current form didn’t even exist until perhaps 150 to 200 years ago. What the North American Indians smoked thousands of years ago is nothing like the tobacco grown today. It’s a mystery.

Anyway, the other exciting part of this is perhaps one day lung cancer will be treated via gene therapy. Already, in this day and age, if you want to pay the money, you can have a gene test done to see if you have this gene mutation. The down side to such a test is maybe some people will say, “hooray, I can smoke all I want now…” which would be a dumb response to such a test. Like I said earlier, you could still lose years off your life through COPD and heart disease by smoking.

Another exciting development of this discovery is scientists are working on a drug to block the gene mutation before it ever develops into cancer.

Pot smoking doesn’t cause lung disease: The lung cancer gene, part 1

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A study that came out last month determined that occasional post smoking doesn’t cause near the damage to lungs as cigarette smoking.

The study followed 5,115 regular pot smokers over the course of 20 years.

This reminds me very much of a study done about 5 years ago showing that even chronic pot use doesn’t appear to lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.

“We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use,” the study’s lead researcher, Dr.Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles stated. “What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect” among marijuana smokers who had lower incidences of cancer compared to non-users.

So what’s going on here? Why is tobacco smoke so unhealthy and pot smoke apparently does minimal damage (though the article does point out that some studies have shown an increase in bronchitis and chronic coughs in pot smokers).

In any case, every major study on the issue has consistently shown that pot is considerably less dangerous to the lungs and heart than tobacco (not getting into whatever cognative damage chronic pot use might cause. When it comes to lung and heart, tobacco is far, far, far worse). Not to mention the difference of physical addiction between nicotine and THC. I quit smoking dope 20 years ago and it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. No night sweats, no cravings, nothing. Why one continues to be illegal and the other legal continues to mystify me. And there doesn’t appear to be a lot of political will out there for legalizing dope.

Pot smoke actually has some of the same toxins as cigarette smoke, but in different doses. One theory is that additives in cigarette smoke are making cigarettes so deadly, but I’m dubious of that one. People were dying of smoking in the 1930s long before the tobacco companies were pumping additives into their tobacco. Another theory is that tobacco smoke is ingested more deeply, but I’m dubious of that one, too, because pot smoke is ingested pretty deeply into the lungs.

I have a theory that lung cancer (forgetting for a bit the heart damage and COPD that smoking causes) is both a genetic and environmental disease, which could be one big reason tobacco smoking causes so much lung cancer while pot smoking doesn’t. There’s been a lot of really interesting and exciting information that has come out about the genetic component of lung cancer the last few years. I’ll write about that in part two tomorrow.