15 Myths About Lung Cancer You Need to Stop Believing

Lung cancer stands as the top cause of cancer deaths for both men and women, WebMD notes — and odds are good that you know someone who’s been diagnosed. The disease starts in the lungs, but it can then spread to other parts of the body if it goes untreated. And it becomes particularly deadly once it spreads.

It’s a scary disease, that’s for sure — but your best protection is having the right knowledge on who’s likely to get it and if you need to be concerned. Here are the most common myths you need to stop believing immediately, including one that smokers need to pay attention to (No. 8).

1. The number of new cases of lung cancer is declining

Doctor shows human lungs

Doctor shows human lungs | Natali_Mis/iStock/Getty Images

With more people than ever aware of the dangers of cigarettes, it seems as if lung cancer rates should be declining over time. Unfortunately, this is far from reality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that while cancer deaths have been slowly improving since their data from 1999, the number of new lung cancer cases per year is on the rise.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2018, there will be around 234,030 new lung cancer cases and over 150,000 deaths.

Next: Do you know if your house is harming you?

2. Your living space isn’t contributing to your lung cancer risk

unfinished basement

Unfinished basement | Marbury/iStock/Getty Images

Even if you clean your house regularly and live in a low-pollution area, your home could still be seriously hurting your lungs. The National Cancer Institute explains radon, a colorless and odorless gas, is actually quite common in households that aren’t well-ventilated. It can enter homes through cracks in the flooring, walls, or foundation. And if you inhale too much of it over time, the particles can damage lung cells and eventually lead to cancer.

Inhaling radon isn’t anywhere near as deadly as smoking, but even so, it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.

Next: Smokers can still be doing other things to lower their risk.

3. If you smoke, there’s nothing you can do to lower your risk

Nicotine smoking

A hand holding a cigarette | Terroa/iStock/Getty Images

There’s no doubt that quitting smoking is tough. And while it’s vital for your lung health to stop the habit, there are certainly other measures smokers can take to improving their odds of not developing the deadly disease.

The ACS recommends avoiding cancer-causing chemicals and radon exposure when possible. Also, your lifestyle is key. Incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables into your diet and get up to 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise daily. This can make a world of difference in the long run.

Next: Worried about air pollution? Don’t fret too much.

4. Air pollution is just as bad for your lungs as smoking

traffic on highway

Morning rush-hour traffic moves along the 60 freeway | David McNew/Getty Images

If you live in an urban environment, the health of your lungs has probably crossed your mind. And Verywell explains various studies have found that the incidence of lung cancer is generally higher in cities than it is in rural areas.

Even so, pollution isn’t nearly as big of a threat as smoking is. A 2009 study found 5% of male lung cancer cases and 3% of female cases between the years 1970 and 1994 could actually be attributed to pollution, whereas the rates for smokers is way higher. All in all, stay away from tobacco (or secondhand smoke) whenever you can.

Next: Remember that genetics matter.

5. You have total control over whether or not you develop lung cancer

A human chest showing lung cancer

A human chest showing lung cancer | stockdevil/Getty Images

You eat healthily, have never smoked a cigarette in your life, and exercise every day — so there’s clearly no point in worrying about your lungs, right? Unfortunately, cancer is never that simple. And while certain habits can monumentally increase your risk over time, you should still be aware that genetics are a factor in whether you develop any type of cancer.

If you know lung cancer runs in your family, make sure to know any symptoms you should be looking for as you age.

Next: You should never give up just because you’re above a certain age. 

6. It’s not worth treating lung cancer if you’re beyond a certain age

Doctor examining senior man

Doctor examining senior man | Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images

Many people who develop lung cancer are over the age of 60. But if you’re diagnosed in your later years, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed. Verywell explains there are plenty of options for treatment in older adults, and various factors aside from your age can determine how well you might tolerate certain medications.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to stay active and eat nutritious foods no matter what your age is. If you do develop lung cancer over time, you’ll likely have a much better prognosis if your lifestyle is on point.

Next: Younger people should still be aware. 

7. You don’t have to worry about cancer until you’re over 50

Group of seniors playing cards

Group of seniors playing cards | Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

It’s true that you’re much more likely to develop cancer as you age. Verywell explains 40% of those diagnosed with cancer are over the age of 70, after all. But you should keep in mind that there are plenty of folks under 50 — some who are children — who have also developed the disease. The publication notes rates of lung cancer seem to be on the rise in the younger crowd, too, so beware.

Next: If you’ve already developed lung cancer, you need to be aware of this myth.

8. If you already have lung cancer, you might as well continue to smoke

man coughing as he stands outside

Man coughing | iStock.com

Perhaps after years of smoking, you’ve developed lung cancer. You may think there’s no sense in quitting since you’ve already developed the disease, but you shouldn’t think about it this way. In fact, Verywell notes there are plenty of reasons as to why you need to quit smoking if you’ve been newly diagnosed, as it can greatly increase the likelihood of a good outcome lower the odds of reoccurrence later on.

Not only that, but you’re less likely to have surgical complications if you’ve quit. It can also make radiation therapy work more effectively.

Next: Here’s what you need to be eating for your lung health. 

9. All fresh produce lowers your odds of developing cancer equally

beautiful young woman choosing green leafy vegetables in grocery store

Woman choosing green leafy vegetables in grocery store | iStock.com/takoburito

You know getting your fruits and veggies in your diet is important, but there are specific ones you should hone in on. WebMD explains cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower are particularly beneficial since they contain phytochemicals that can protect cells. Additionally, strawberries and raspberries have plenty of vitamin C and other antioxidants that can help lower your risk of lung cancer. And spinach contains carotenoids that may help remove free radicals that can harm the lungs.

Next: You still need to be careful of e-cigarettes.

10. Switching to e-cigarettes after you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer is fine

Doctor is comparing electronic vaporizer and conventional tobacco cigarette

Doctor compares electronic vaporizer and conventional tobacco cigarette | vchal/Getty Images

Electronic cigarettes are all the rage, so it makes sense for smokers to make the switch if they’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer. While e-cigarettes may not be nearly as harmful as smoking tobacco, you should still aim to quit the habit altogether. Everyday Health explains you could still be inhaling carcinogens that can hurt your lungs. Not only that, but many e-cigarettes still contain nicotine, which is addictive.

Next: Your family lineage matters. 

11. Your ethnic background doesn’t impact your lung cancer risk

mixed race couple going for a hike

Couple going for a hike | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

When it comes to cancer rates, racial and ethnic backgrounds do matter. The American Lung Association explains black men and women are more likely to develop lung cancer — and they also have a higher chance of dying from it — than any other group.

Black men are 30% more likely to get the disease than white men, even though generally their exposure to cigarette smoke is lower. Black women and white women lung cancer incidences are roughly the same, though black women are less likely to smoke than white women.

Next: Women need to pay attention to this one.

12. Breast cancer is a bigger killer for women than lung cancer

Breast cancer self-check

Woman checking for breast cancer | iStock.com/Tharakorn

You hear all about breast cancer awareness, but you also need to pay attention to lung cancer if you’re a woman. Everyday Health reiterates that lung cancer kills more women yearly than breast cancer does. And more people actually die of lung cancer than they do of breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined.

There are more women who are diagnosed with breast cancer yearly than lung cancer, however, which may cause some confusion. But because breast cancer is often caught earlier than lung, fewer deaths occur.

Next: Here’s the sad reality of treating lung cancer.

13. Most people diagnosed with this cancer go through years of treatment

Cancer patient with therapy dog

Cancer patient with therapy dog | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

You’ve most likely heard of some folks with cancer going through chemotherapy and other treatments for years. And while there are plenty of treatment options for lung cancer, the five-year survival rate is quite low at just 18.6%, according to the American Lung Association. Additionally, over half of those diagnosed will die within a year.

There is good news for those who can catch cancer before it spreads, however. For those who treat it early on in the lungs, their five-year survival rate is 56%.

Next: This common symptom isn’t always present. 

14. You’ll always have a cough as a symptom

Middle-aged businessman suffering chest pains

Middle-aged businessman suffering chest pains | iStock.com/mheim3011

There are plenty of obvious symptoms of lung cancer, and a cough is one of them. But Cancer Treatment Centers of America notes there are sometimes no signs of an issue at all. You may also experience other symptoms that have nothing to do with a cough, like breathing difficulties, loss of appetite, fatigue, or infections that keep returning. And during the more advanced stages of lung cancer, it’s more common to experience facial swelling, lumps in the neck, or bone pain.

Next: Think you should get screened for lung cancer? Make sure you read this.

15. You should consider getting screened for lung cancer no matter who you are

Cancer images

Smoker’s lung | American Cancer Society via Getty Images

There are plenty of preventive measures you can take for cancer, and one of them is getting screened. But unless cancer runs in your family, you’re over a certain age, or you’re a smoker, it might actually be more harmful than helpful. The CDC explains lung cancer screenings come with risks of their own. False-positive results can happen, as can overdiagnosis and excessive radiation exposure from the tests.

If you have a history of heavy smoking or you’re between the ages of 55 and 80, then feel free to request a test. Otherwise, it may be wise to hold off.

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