November marked the start of Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
Here, Dr Tim Woodman from Bupa UK Insurance shares five misconceptions about the condition, along with the most common symptoms, and some advice on how to keep your lungs healthy.
What are the most common symptoms of lung cancer?
Many people with lung cancer have no symptoms at first. Or sometimes the early symptoms can be slight, such as a cough or feeling a bit out of breath.
Other signs to watch out for include feeling tired, experiencing pain in your chest, and a loss of appetite.
If you’re coughing up blood, have a persistent cough or are short of breath, see your GP as soon as possible, especially if you’re over 40.
Myth 1: Only smokers get lung cancer
Smoking is the biggest cause of lung cancer, causing around nine in every 10 cases, although you can still develop it if you’re a non-smoker.
Your risk of lung cancer is related to how much you smoke, how long you’ve been smoking and when you started smoking. It also depends on which type of cigarettes you smoke.
You’re at a higher risk of developing lung cancer if you regularly breathe in other people’s tobacco smoke (passive smoking), so it’s best to keep the environment around you smoke free.
Myth 2: Lung cancer only affects older people
Whilst it’s far more common in older adults (often 65 and older), it is still possible to develop lung cancer at a younger age.
This common misconception could mean young people are less likely to be screened or seek medical help for symptoms.
So, it’s important everyone knows the commons signs of lung cancer and when to seek help. Bupa health insurance customers with symptoms can call the Cancer Direct Access team and could have an appointment booked with a specialist consultant with needing to wait for a GP referral.
Myth 3: I feel well, so I don’t need to check my lungs
You should still attend a lung health check even if you are well, especially as many people with early-stage lung cancer have no symptoms.
For those who do have lung cancer, lung health checks can help speed up diagnosis and increase your treatment options.
Currently, lung health checks via the NHS are for people aged 55-74 who have ever smoked. Or, you can get your lung health checked privately via a health assessment.
Myth 4: There’s nothing I can do to lower my risk of lung cancer
The most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer is to stop smoking. Try to avoid second-hand smoke too – keep away from enclosed spaces where other people are smoking.
There’s some evidence that eating fruits and vegetables can help to reduce your risk of getting lung cancer if you’ve never smoked. Try to eat a balanced diet with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, as well as exercising regularly, lowering your stress levels, and sleeping well to reduce your risk.
Myth 5: E-cigarettes won’t cause cancer
E-cigarettes are still a relatively new product, so the long-term impact they could have on your health isn’t known yet.
E-cigarettes allow you to inhale nicotine (the addictive ingredient in cigarettes) without most of the harmful effects of smoking. The vapour contains no tar or carbon monoxide, which are harmful chemicals found in cigarettes.
However, some of the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes (like metal particles and aldehydes) are still present in e-cigarette vapour.
If you want to quit smoking, there are lots of products available to help you to manage your cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Three steps to improve lung health:
1. Quit smoking
Tobacco smoke contains thousands of different chemicals and toxic gases, which are known to be harmful to your health, and increase your risk of lung cancer. Stopping smoking can be more effective if you choose your quit method and then establish a social support network to help you.
2. Prevent infection
A cold or other respiratory infection can sometimes become very serious. Regular handwashing is vital to stopping the spread of illness. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly at regular intervals throughout the day, particularly when using public facilities and carry a hand sanitiser with you when travelling.
3. Get your health checked
Regular health check-ups help prevent diseases and infections, even when you are feeling well. Prioritise your health by checking it regularly, whether that’s via a GP appointment or a health check.
For more on Lung Cancer Awareness Month, click here.