World Lung Cancer Day: Education, Advocacy, and Remembrance

August 1 is World Lung Cancer Day—a day where patients, physicians, and cancer organizations around the globe educate about prevention, commemorate lives lost, and celebrate new breakthroughs in treating the deadliest cancer worldwide.

World Lung Cancer Day was created in 2012 by the Forum of International Respiratory Societies. This year in recognition, the American Lung Association announced several new patient resources, including videos and interactive tools to help navigate treatment options. The resources can be accessed at Lung.org.

In addition, the Lung Cancer Federation of American (LCFA) will be holding a four-hour social media takeover, starting at 11 a.m. ET. Patients and advocates are encouraged to post about their experiences with lung cancer on social media using the hashtag #livingwithlungcancer, to spotlight what life looks like for patients and their care teams.

About Lung Cancer

In 2020 there were 2.21 million new cases of lung cancer worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related mortality, totaling 1.8 million deaths in 2020. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates more than 235,000 new cases will be diagnosed in the United States this year.

Types of Lung Cancer

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). NSCLC makes up 80% to 85% of total cases. SCLC accounts for 10% to 15% of cases and tends to spread more rapidly compared with NSCLC. According to the ACS, around 70% of people with SCLC have cancer that has already spread at the time of diagnosis.

Other tumors can also occur in the lungs, including lung carcinoid tumors, adenoid cystic carcinomas, lymphomas, sarcomas, and other cancers that have spread to the lungs.

Cigarette Smoking and Other Risk Factors

Smoking is the number one modifiable risk factor associated with developing lung cancer. Cigarette smoking is believed to be linked to 80% of lung cancer-related deaths, according to the ACS. This figure is thought to be higher for SCLC compared to NSCLC. Cigar and pipe smoking are also linked to an increased risk of cancer. Current research seeks to confirm whether electronic cigarettes or vaping also increase this risk.

Even for those who don’t smoke, exposure to the cigarette smoke of others, or secondhand smoke, can also increase the risk of cancer. Secondhand smoke causes more than 7,000 lung cancer-related deaths annually.

For more information regarding quitting smoking, visit the ACS’ online resource, How to Quit Using Tobacco, which offers advice and educational information regarding quitting and sticking to it long-term.

There are other modifiable risk factors associated with this cancer, including exposure to radon, asbestos, and other carcinogens. Air pollution and a previous family history of lung cancer are major non-modifiable risk factors. Air pollution is believed to be tied to 5% of lung cancer deaths worldwide.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Lung cancer that is diagnosed at an earlier stage is more likely to be successfully treated. Many symptoms do not present until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage, which makes regular and proactive screening important.

Screening Guidelines

The ACS recommends yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose CAT or CT scan for individuals aged 55 to 74 years old, who are in fairly good health, and who meet all the following conditions:

  • Currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years.
  • Have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history (the number of years smoked multiplied by the number of packs of cigarettes per day).
  • Receive counseling to quit smoking if they currently smoke.
  • Have been told by their doctor about the possible benefits, limits, and harms of screening with LDCT scans.
  • Have a facility where they can go that has experience in lung cancer screening and treatment.

If cancer is suspected after screening, then a biopsy of the lung is done to confirm.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Since most lung cancers do not exhibit symptoms until they have spread, it is critical that any symptoms are reported to a physician quickly. The most common symptoms include:

  • Cough that does not go away or gets worse
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum
  • Chest pain that is worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Infections (e.g. bronchitis and pneumonia) that don’t go away or keep coming back
  • New onset of wheezing

Lung cancer that has spread to other parts of the body may be associated with different symptoms, including bone pain, nervous system changes (e.g. headache, weakness or numbness, dizziness, balance problems, or seizures), jaundice, or swollen lymph nodes. For more information on symptoms or guides to screening and diagnosis, visit the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) lung cancer resources page.

Treatment Options

Treatment for lung cancer varies. Patients may undergo surgery to remove the tumor and the tissue around it, part of the lobe, or the bronchus. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are two other standard treatments.

Targeted therapies, including monoclonal antibodies, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors, may be used to attack specific cancer cells. Another standard treatment is immunotherapy, in which the patient’s immune system is directed to fight cancer. This may include immune checkpoint inhibitors, which work by blocking proteins on T cells that prevent them from killing cancer cells.

Many other treatments are being studied in clinical trials. For more information regarding these and other treatment options, visit the NCI website, which lists standard and new treatments for both NSCLC and SCLC.

Educate and Advocate on World Lung Cancer Day

On August 1, take part in the outreach and advocacy occurring around the globe in honor of World Lung Cancer Day.

“World Lung Cancer Day presents a meaningful opportunity to highlight our new and existing lung cancer resources that offer support for those impacted by this devastating disease, while building additional awareness across the country,” said American Lung Association National President and Chief Executive Officer Harold P. Wimmer, via a press release. “This occasion serves as a reminder of our mission’s critical importance, today and every day, notably as it relates to the need to address lung cancer disparities.”