It’s Time to Increase Your Lung Cancer IQ


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. What better time to test your IQ about the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States! Reportedly, it kills 1 in 15 people.

Probably the most important thing you need to know about lung cancer is that it is not exclusively a “smoker’s” disease. While it is true that the vast majority of lung cancers – approximately 80 percent – can be attributed to smoking, 20 percent of lung cancers happen in people who have never smoked or used any tobacco products. This translates to around 30,000 people annually. And two-thirds of these nonsmokers who get lung cancer are women.

To put this in perspective, if lung cancer in nonsmokers had its own category, it would rank among the top 10 fatal cancers in the country. Think about that for a moment before reading on.

The second thing you need to know is that there are three types of lung cancer and each has its own risk factors, disease characteristics and treatment options. As with other cancers, all lung cancers begin when different cells in the lungs become abnormal and grow out of control. These cells can then form tumors, which can then travel to other parts of the body.  

Generally, there are  three types of lung cancers.

  • Non-small Cell Lung Cancer. This is the most common type of lung cancer, covering about 85 percent of all lung cancer diagnosis. There are subtypes of non-small cell lung cancer with each based on the type of cell in which the cancer started. About 40 percent of non-small cell lung cancers are adenocarcinoma, which is the most common type of lung cancer seen in non-smokers.
  • Small Cell Lung Cancer.  This type represents 10 to 15 percent of lung cancers and is fast-spreading. It also is referred to as oat cell cancer because of its small, oval-shaped cells that look like oats grains under a microscope.
  • Lung Carcinoid Tumor.  Fewer than 5 percent of lung cancers are of this type. Typical lung carcinoid tumors grow slowly and rarely metastasize beyond the lungs.  The vast majority of lung carcinoid tumors are typical.

Risk Factors for Non-smokers

Limiting exposure to secondhand smoke is the most important thing a nonsmoker can do to reduce lung cancer risk. But there are also other things that may increase lung cancer risk in non-smokers. While most cannot be completely avoided, minimizing exposure can greatly reduce your lung cancer risk.  

  • Radon Gas: The leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers is exposure to radon gas, an invisible, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in soil and rocks. It sometimes becomes concentrated in homes built on soil with natural uranium deposits. Because radon gas cannot be seen or smelled, the only way to know whether it’s a problem is to test for it.
  • Workplace Carcinogens:  While exposure to work-related carcinogens has decreased in recent years in the U.S.A. because of stricter regulations, nonsmokers are still are exposed to materials such as asbestos, diesel exhaust and a variety of chemicals, which could cause lung cancer.  Limiting exposure to these carcinogens when possible is the best way to reduce the risk.
  • Air Pollution:  The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated air pollution as a carcinogen. While the level of risk will vary greatly depending on the location, current thinking is that high levels of air pollution can carry the same risk for developing lung cancer as passive smoking.
  • Lung Diseases: Emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may increase lung cancer risk by 50 percent to 100 percent. If you have one of these diseases, you should consult with your healthcare provider on ways to best manage them.
  • Poor Diet:  It is estimated that up to 30 percent of cancers, including lung cancer, may be linked to poor dietary habits. Certain chemicals found in food have also been shown to increase cancer risk and should be avoided. These include phosphates added to processed foods such as certain cheeses and sausage, and nitrates/nitrites found in cured, processed meats.

So How Can You Be Proactive?

Better Nutrition Can Reduce Lung Cancer Risk

Since almost a third of cancers are caused by poor diets, it only makes sense that healthy diets – and especially those rich in fruits and vegetables – may reduce the risk of lung cancer. There is some evidence that this type of diet may help protect smokers and nonsmokers alike, but any benefit for nonsmokers would be less than the increased risk from smoking. So, if you smoke, trying to quit is still your best bet.

For cancer prevention, it is important to get a daily adequate intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which may help reduce the damage from oxidative stress.

Here are some proactive steps you can take with your diet.

  • Watch your sugar intake. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found evidence in a study, published last year, that consuming a high glycemic index diet, meaning foods that elevate blood sugar levels rapidly, may increase your risk of developing lung cancer in non-Hispanic whites.
  • Eat foods with magnesium. There is some evidence that this mineral may reduce the overall risk of cancer. Foods containing magnesium include spinach, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, kefir, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate and bananas.
  • Eat foods with selenium. Selenium may be protective against cancer, and a deficiency in this important mineral is a risk factor for several types of cancer. Foods high in selenium include Brazil nuts, yellowfin tuna, halibut, sardines and chicken.
  • Eat foods with zinc. People with an increased dietary zinc intake may have a lower risk of lung cancer, a study suggested, noting the protective benefits of this mineral. Foods with zinc include lamb, pumpkin seeds, grass fed beef, mushrooms, chickpeas, spinach and chicken.
  • Eat foods with copper. People with increased dietary copper intake may have a lower risk of lung cancer, a study suggested, noting the protective benefits of this mineral. Copper rich foods include sunflower seeds, lentils, almonds, dark chocolate, beef liver and asparagus.
  • Eat foods with iron. Increased iron intake may also help protect against lung cancer. Iron-rich foods include red meat, pork, poultry, seafoods, beans, spinach (and other leafy greens), peas, cherimoyas and iron-fortified cereals.
  • Eat foods with sulfur. Most of your dietary sulfur comes from proteins such as fish, beef and poultry. You can also find sulfur in egg yolks, beans, coconut, bananas, pineapple, watermelon, broccoli, garlic, onions, asparagus, leeks, kale and sweet potatoes.
  • Get enough vitamin D. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, found that higher levels of vitamin D are associated with a reduced risk of cancer. You can increase your vitamin D levels by spending time in the sun, eating vitamin D-fortified foods and/or taking supplements.

You may also want to talk with your doctor about whether or not aspirin therapy may help reduce your lung cancer risk since research studies show that it may also be helpful in cancer prevention.  

Finally, even though November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, you should be proactive in preventing lung cancer every day. Remember, it’s an equal-opportunity disease.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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