Lung Cancer Awareness: Navigating Myths and Truths

A closer look at the facts and fiction surrounding lung cancer and things to know about caregiving for someone with this critical illness.

by Calvyn Ee

Lung Cancer Awareness

Lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation. It’s the most common form of cancer among men and the second most common among women. In Malaysia, the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey noted that it is the fifth most common cancer among women, despite the very low percentage of women who smoke. 

Moreover, based on the 2018 Malaysian Study on Cancer Survival, the number of women with lung cancer was almost half the number of men with lung cancer. It goes to show that it’s not just smoking that’s the main contributor to lung cancer cases in the country; secondhand smoke is just as dangerous to those exposed to it regularly.

While there is growing awareness of lung cancer’s causes and the importance of screening, there’s still a great deal of work to be done to spread this information to more people. A combination of factors, including wilful ignorance, complicate matters, but it’s also exacerbated by the challenges of screening such as false positives.

November will mark Lung Cancer Awareness Month in Malaysia, and in preparation for that, we’ve prepared this article that tells you more about lung cancer myths and truths so that you’ll be well-informed about how you can do your part in fighting lung cancer.

Men are More Likely to Contract Lung Cancer

Partly True

According to the American Cancer Society, the chances of a man developing lung cancer in his lifetime is about 1 in 16 – regardless of whether they smoke or not. Of course, the risk of contracting it does increase if a man smokes; it’s estimated that a person is 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer.

However, some studies seem to find that non-smoking men are approximately 33 percent less likely to get lung cancer compared to women. There is speculation that there may be other risk factors that may be at play here, such as genetics and exposure to carcinogens such as radon. Further studies are still needed to determine if this is indeed true.

Non-smokers Are at Low Risk


As we’ve established earlier in the article, even non-smokers are still at high risk of contracting lung cancer, even if they live in a smoke-free household. There’s still the risk of secondhand smoke from other smokers as well as air pollution (natural or man-made). It’s estimated that outdoor air pollution causes roughly 1 in 10 cases of lung cancer.

In our heavily industrialised world, higher levels of exposure to air pollution put us in greater jeopardy of contracting lung cancer. Given that several harmful chemicals can be spread through tiny particulate matter that can’t be filtered out by the body (either by sneezing or coughing), some of these harmful elements reach our internal organs and can affect us at the cellular level.

Lung Cancer is Irreversible

Partly True

At its early stages, lung cancer is still treatable. While it can be cured, it’s more accurate to say it’s gone into “remission.” Remission is what happens when treatment reduces or eliminates the amount of cancer cells in your body – in this case, the lungs. There’s still a low likelihood that cancer cells may come back, which is why follow-ups are so important to keep an eye on your overall health and detect cancer if it does come back.

Lung Cancer is Untreatable


On that same note, lung cancer can be brought to remission with treatment. By going for your follow-up checks and living a healthy life, you can ensure you live a long and fruitful life with little worry about lung cancer ever returning. Even if it did, early detection can do so much to safeguard your health and make a speedy recovery where the cancer goes into remission again.

e-Cigarettes are Harmless to the Body


This subject is still under scrutiny as e-cigarettes and vaping are relatively new inventions. The existing body of research conducted on their effects on the body has been mixed: some studies suggest that they don’t cause significant harm compared to smoking, while others indicate that their use constitutes a major health risk.

Even so, e-cigarettes contain several chemicals and additives in a liquid; vaping heats this liquid until it becomes a vapor that you then inhale. Some of these chemicals and additives may be deemed safe, but they’re only deemed safe for consumption as food and not as something to be inhaled.

Moreover, some of these chemicals can coat the lungs with a variety of toxins, which can include carcinogens and ultrafine particles that can’t be filtered out of the body. Continuous vaping can elevate your risk of inflammation that can cause lung cancer. The risk of secondhand smoke is also present, even if you don’t use e-cigarettes at all.

Quitting Smoking Won’t Reduce My Lung Cancer Risk


Even if you’ve been smoking for many years, or have just quit after being diagnosed with lung cancer, stopping smoking can still have health benefits. Various studies have found that quitting smoking reduces a person’s mortality rate to lung cancer or other lung diseases. In fact, your circulation will gradually improve and your lungs also work better over time – and it all starts the moment you quit smoking for good.

To accentuate this point further, one study found that smokers who decide to quit after being diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer double their chances of survival by over 5 years, compared to people who continue to smoke. It may be difficult to quit, but with proper support from your family and medical professionals, you’ll be able to kick the habit once and for all.

Antioxidants are Good for Lung Cancer

Partly True

While naturally occurring antioxidants found in foods are crucial for the body to function optimally, antioxidant supplements have been found to contribute to lung cancer in many people. Recent studies have noted that a higher antioxidant intake given to the mice contributed to a higher rate of blood vessel formation within tumours they had. This is backed up by prior research that was conducted on antioxidants.

Doctors therefore advise that you get your daily antioxidant intake from foods instead of supplements. If supplements may be needed, your doctor will make the necessary prescriptions, careful to account for your condition and possible risk of lung cancer.

Lung Cancer is Asymptomatic


It’s estimated that 25 percent of lung cancer cases are asymptomatic, requiring an imaging test to be detected. For the most part, lung cancer doesn’t cause any symptoms in the early stages. Generally, symptoms that may indicate early signs of lung cancer may include:

  • A persistent cough that doesn’t go away (lung cancer cough)
  • Coughing up blood/rust-colored phlegm
  • Chest pain exacerbated by laughing, coughing, or even deep breaths
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of energy/appetite
  • Recurring bronchitis or pneumonia

Early, regular screenings are still the best way to catch lung cancer early before it spreads to other parts of the body.

Lung Cancer Cough is a Sure Sign

Partly True

Lung cancer cough is usually recognised as a very early warning sign of lung cancer. It may be due to tumours in the lungs that cause irritation, which then causes you to cough. It may also be due to pleural effusion, where liquid builds up in the space between the lungs and the chest. This pleural effusion may also cause shortness of breath and even chest pain.

It can still be confused for being a persistent cough, especially if other symptoms don’t present themselves. Still, it’s a good idea to get it checked as soon as possible, especially if you feel it’s been going on for an unusually long time.

Lung Cancer is Infectious


You can’t be infected by someone else with lung cancer. Cancer cells cannot survive on their own outside the body, and even if they somehow reach another person, they’re quickly detected as a foreign contaminant by the other person’s body and then quickly eliminated before they can cause lasting harm.

There are still reasons why people wrongly assume that it’s infectious. For one, a family history of cancer risk does increase your risk of getting it; it may be due to genetics, unhealthy lifestyle choices, or exposure to a cancer-causing agent. Some infections weaken your body and put you at higher risk of developing lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Only Affects Older Persons

Partly True

Anyone can be at risk of lung cancer, especially if you or your loved ones (or others around you) frequently smoke, or are exposed to cancer-causing agents. While there are cases where people over 60 years old get lung cancer, this isn’t necessarily true across the board within different segments of society.

Talcum Powder is a Risk Factor

Partly True

Talcum powder is made from talc which, in its natural form, may contain traces of asbestos, which is a known cancer-causing agent. While there is such a thing as asbestos-free talcum powder, it isn’t clear if they truly are free of asbestos. Some medical regulatory agencies caution against the use of talcum powder as a preventive measure.

Talcum powder with traces of asbestos has become a major controversy recently, where Johnson & Johnson faces numerous allegations it knew talc contained asbestos traces but continued to sell its talcum-based baby powder products despite this knowledge.

Some studies suggest that talc miners and millers may be at risk of lung cancer due to exposure to talc particles. But that’s not the only cancer-causing risk: there could also be high amounts of air pollutants that need to be accounted for.

Caregiving for People with Lung Cancer

If detected early, lung cancer can be quickly treated and brought into remission. Even then, treating lung cancer can be a draining process – not only for your physical health but also your mental wellbeing. Caregiving for someone with lung cancer can feel like a burden, but it can still be a rewarding and bonding experience for you and your loved one if done right.

Stay on Top of Their Medical Needs

Lung cancer requires a great deal of effort to get treated until it goes into remission. Follow-up appointments are important, but in between appointments, you need to look out for your loved one’s health. This includes monitoring their treatment plan closely, medication reminders, and keeping track of their wellbeing.

You can help by doing these simple things:

  • Be on the lookout for possible signs and symptoms that might be related to their lung cancer
  • Remind them to take their medications at the right time and dosage
  • Help them cope with the side effects of treatment
  • Take them to and from the doctor for their medical appointments
  • Take note of any important medical advice/information

Provide Practical Care

Your loved one may need some help with activities of daily living (ADLs), especially when lung cancer may be affecting their ability to do things on their own. As their caregiver, you’ll need to be ready to help them out with:

  • Cleaning the house
  • Maintaining their hygiene
  • Dress them
  • Preparing meals
  • Shopping for essentials

There may be other areas where they’ll need help, including sorting out financial and legal matters. It can be beneficial for your loved one to have someone around to help them with all these things. It can give them plenty of reassurance that they’re in good hands.

Be There for Them

It’s important to let your loved one know that you’re there to support them through their treatment and recovery, from start to finish. It can be difficult to try to talk about their condition, as it’s normal to feel lost and confused at first after receiving the diagnosis; it’ll take time for them to accept their diagnosis. Give them space and time to mull things over, but also make sure you show them (subtly, if possible) that you’re there to help.

Don’t try to force a conversation about their diagnosis; it can quickly turn ugly if you’re impatient with them or refuse to understand their worries and fears. Doing so will only hurt your relationship with them and make the treatment and recovery process a lot harder than it needs to be. Let them approach you when they’re ready; offer them a shoulder to cry on and they’ll be grateful for your compassion.

You’ll also need to keep an eye on their mental health. Keep communication going with them and see if there’s anything they’d like to discuss at length, or if they need someone to accompany them after a difficult treatment session. Small steps go a long way to helping your loved one make a speedy recovery.

Get Help If You Need It

If you can, you shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibilities of caregiving on your own. Seek help from your family or close friends when you need it, and have them understand your reasons for getting their help. It’s not selfish to look after your needs; caregiver burnout can end up impairing the quality of care you’re providing your loved one, and that can have major adverse consequences in the long term.

It’s good to have a schedule prepared so you can easily (and fairly) divide caregiving duties between yourself and whoever can assist you. Make sure you also take care of their wellbeing – caregiving may be rewarding, but knowing full well the effort it takes to look after someone, you should also be mindful of the needs of those helping you out.

Get Help with Homage

If you’re having difficulties with balancing your caregiving duties and your other responsibilities, Homage is here to help. At Homage, our Care Professionals are able to step in to provide nursing and ADL services like bed baths, preparing food, monitoring your loved one’s health, and helping your loved one get around, among other things. We provide assistance to anyone who needs help within our operating cities in Klang Valley, Penang, Perak, and Johor. We’ll be able to tailor a personalised plan that suits your loved one’s needs, ensuring they can live their days in peace, comfort, and dignity. Download our app now to find out more and start booking quality care for your loved one!

About the Writer
Calvyn Ee
Calvyn is an aspiring author, poet and storyteller. He spends his time reading, gaming and building stories with his action figure photography.
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