Tag 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.

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.

New study: Cancer death rates in America dropping dramatically!

Great, great news.

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According to a new study released by the American Cancer Society, cancer death rates have dropped drastically over the past 20 years — 23 percent for men, and 15 percent for women.

Two big reasons — better screening and treatment, and a third reason obviously — a LOT fewer people smoking (Down from 50 to 60 percent in the 1960s to 20 percent today).

Get this, 40 percent of the overall decline in cancer deaths among men (and 34 percent among women) is caused specifically by the decline just in lung cancer deaths (Lung cancer is by far the biggest cancer killer — the next four cancer killers — colon, prostate, pancreas and breast cancer, kill fewer people per year than lung cancer alone.)

Still, even in 2012, about one-third of the cancer deaths in America will be caused due to smoking (and 160,000 of the 577,000 estimated cancer deaths in 2012 will be lung cancer, about 28 percent), according to the ACS. Another third will be caused by obesity and poor nutrition.

From the report. Estimated cancer deaths in 2012. I put this here just to illustrate the damage done by tobacco.

Total cancer deaths 2012 estimated: 577,000

1) Lung cancer 160,000 — 28 percent of all cancer deaths (85 percent smokers or former smokers)

2) Colon 51,000

3) Breast 39,000 (suggestions tobacco increases risk)

4) Pancreas 37,000 (Definite links to tobacco, 50 percent smokers or former smokers)

5) Prostate 28,000

6) Leukemia 23,500 (suggestions of tobacco increasing risk of certain kinds of leukemia)

7) Liver 20,500

8) Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 19,000

9) Bladder 15,000 (Definite links to tobacco, 50 percent smokers or former smokers)

10) Esophagus 15,000 (strong links to tobacco)

Surgeon General new report on smoking … cigarettes are bad, M’kay


OK, what has gotten a lot of press from a truly extensive Surgeon General’s report on cigarettes released yesterday is a conclusion that “there is no safe level of cigarette smoke.”

The media has turned this into “just one cigarette can kill you.” Unfortunately, the report does contain a passage that just a few minutes of cigarette smoke can give a person with heart disease a heart attack. Well, having someone sneak up on you from behind and say, “Boo!” can give you a heart attack if you have serious heart disease. It’s a really stupid point.

The real crux of the report, which the media has missed somewhat, is that it examines how cigarettes cause various forms of cancer and lung disease.
In summary:
• The chemicals and toxicants in tobacco smoke damage DNA, which can lead to cancer. Nearly one-third of all cancer deaths every year are directly linked to smoking. Smoking causes about 85% of lung cancers in the U.S.
•Exposure to tobacco smoke quickly damages blood vessels throughout the body and makes blood more likely to clot. This damage can cause heart attacks, strokes, and even sudden death.
• The chemicals in tobacco smoke inflame the delicate lining of the lungs and can cause permanent damage that reduces the ability of the lungs to exchange air efficiently and leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

I found the lung cancer chapter the most interesting. Sure enough, here is the conclusion I was looking for:

“There is consistent evidence that a combination of polymorphisms in the CYP1A1 and GSTM1 genes leads to higher DNA adduct levels in smokers and higher relative risks for lung cancer than in those smokers without this genetic profile.
“Exposure to cigarette smoke carcinogens leads to DNA damage and subsequent mutations in TP53 and KRAS in lung cancer.”

So, here’s the thing to wrap your heads around. Smoking fucks with your DNA. It isn’t just irritating the cells of your lungs, it’s actually changing the DNA of those cells.

The various cancers mentioned by the report were lung, mouth, throat, stomach, pancreas, bladder, kidney and leukemia. Surprisingly, lymphoma was not mentioned. I had always thought there was an increased risk of lymphoma if you smoked, but this report doesn’t mention that, so I suppose not.

One of the things that has long baffled scientists is why most smokers don’t get lung cancer. Somewhere between 10 to 20 percent do, depending on what study you read. Why don’t the 80 or other 90 percent get lung cancer is smoking is carcinogenic?

The answer apparently is in genetics, which the report refers to above, and I was hoping it would talk about that. People with a certain gene are more prone to lung cancer. If they smoke and have this gene, they are at extreme risk of lung cancer. If they don’t smoke, they are still at elevated risk of lung cancer. That’s why 10 percent of men who get lung cancer aren’t smokers, and 20 percent of women. Perhaps there are other environmental factors, such as radon or air pollution. But, the fact remains, that roughly 85 percent of the people who get lung cancer are smokers.

So, if you don’t have this gene and smoke, you will probably never get lung cancer. You may die in your 50s of heart disease or die from COPD or some other form of cancer, but you probably won’t get lung cancer. So, you’re not somehow magically out of the woods if you don’t have this gene. It isn’t that simple.
Anyway, here is the press release on this report. You can download the whole 700-page document if you wish. Or you can just download the executive summary.

Lung cancer doesn’t just kill smokers — The story of Jill Costello

Chris Ballard had an excellent article in this week’s Sports Illustrated. (Normally, I’m not a big fan of Chris Ballard’s stuff, some of it I find kind of trite, but this was his best article yet.).

Ballard wrote about a young coxswain for the University of California, Jill Costello, who led her rowing team to a Pac-10 championship, and to the national championship meet, while battling lung cancer.

I knew as soon as I started reading the article how it was going to end. Lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates. Why? Part of the reason is because not a lot of research dollars go into lung cancer as compared to other kinds of cancer. Why? Because lung cancer has a stigma. Because many people still assume anyone who gets lung cancer deserves it.

Jill Costello was one of the 20 percent of women who get lung cancer who are non-smokers. About 15 percent of the people, male and female, who get lung cancer are non-smokers. Some studies have suggested that lung cancer is genetic. If you have a certain gene, and you smoke, there is a very high likelihood you are going to get lung cancer. If you don’t have the gene and smoke, you will probably never get lung cancer — but you will still get all the heart disease and COPD and other kinds of cancer smoking causes. If you have the gene and don’t smoke, you are at increased risk for lung cancer — not as much as if you smoked — but still an increased risk. Jill probably had the gene.

Jill battled her illness, and, more dramatically, the myriad side-effects of the chemotherapy, while continuing to compete for the Cal rowing team. It was a heart-wrenching article for me, having watched a parent go through this 30 years ago.

Like I said, I knew the story would end a certain way. Cal did not win the national championship. They came in fourth, and a month after the national championships, Jill died at the age of 23.

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate when I started getting involved in tobacco issues is how much stigma there is attached to lung cancer; how many times people with lung cancer have to answer the question, “are you a smoker?” I’ve since gone to great lengths to avoid attaching blame to smokers who get lung cancer. It isn’t there fault they took up a bad habit in their teens that turned out to be physically addicting. We all did dumb things in our teen years, but most of us can laugh about it. A smoker trying to quit, or a smoker with cancer, it’s not a laughing matter when they look back and say, “Why did I start smoking when I was 15?”

So, all I ask is if you know someone with lung cancer, just don’t ask them, “are you a smoker?”