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Tobacco Use and Lung Cancer Awareness and Prevention


Cancer is the leading cause of death in North Carolina and in Durham. Although it doesn't always have symptoms, fortunately, cancer can often be prevented or found early through screening. Despite overall improvements in care, African Americans still suffer the greatest burden across the most common types of cancer. The reasons for these differences are complex and can include limited access to resources and information, lack of screening for cancer, and unequal treatment in the health care system. Some research has also suggested that biology and genetics may explain why African American breast, lung and prostate cancer patients tend to do worse than patients of other races, even with the same medical treatment. There are a number of things that you can do to improve your health and minimize the likelihood of you getting the disease or dying from it. In fact, studies show that almost 40-60% of cancers could be eliminated by changing our behaviors such as healthy eating, not smoking, exercising regularly and controlling your weight!

Lung Cancer 

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. Experts estimate that over 200,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed each year slightly more cases in men than women. Over 150,000 Americans die of the disease each year. Lung cancer occurs most often between the ages of 55 and 65. The percentage of African-American men diagnosed with lung cancer each year is at least 30% higher than among white men, even though they have similar rates of smoking as white men.

Common Symptoms may include;

  • breathing trouble, such as shortness of breath,

  • constant chest pain,

  • a hoarse voice,

  • a persistent cough that will not go away and

  • coughing up blood.


The most important thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to not start smoking, or to quit if you smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.


It has been documented that thousands of veterans are current or former smokers which is a major reason why lung cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the VA system. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death for veterans cared for by the US Veterans Health Administration. The lung cancer burden among veterans is almost double that of the general population. In reviewing how some patients view lung cancer screening, studies have shown how some African Americans, especially men, view lung cancer screening. One of the major themes explored in some of the studies is the desire to decrease uncertainty which may motivate lung cancer screening. It was found that uncertainty is an attribute of health status that impacts how patients weigh benefits and harms of lung cancer screening. Thus, a systematic approach to understanding and addressing patients’ concerns about uncertainty in the context of lung cancer screening can guide a patient-centered approach to shared decision making.

As for adolescents and tobacco use, studies have documented that each day in the United States, more than 3,200 youth aged 18 years or younger smoke their first cigarette, and an additional 2,100 youth and young adults become daily cigarette smokers. Thus, tobacco use is started and established primarily during adolescent.  Menthol cigarettes have been more appealing to adolescents and nearly 9 of every 10 African American smokers (88.5%) aged 12 years and older prefer menthol cigarettes. Although African Americans usually smoke fewer cigarettes and start smoking cigarettes at an older age, they are more likely to die from smoking-related diseases than whites.


Information from the fact sheet from the Office of the Surgeon General of November 17, 2017 states that there is an epidemic of tobacco use among youth ages 12 through 17 and young adults ages 18 through 25, including the epidemiology, causes, and health effects of this tobacco use and interventions proven to prevent it. The article states that progress has been made in reducing tobacco use among youth; however, far too many young people are still using tobacco.


The information further relays the fact that 600,000 middle school students and 3 million high school students smoke cigarettes. Every day, more than 1,200 people in this country die due to smoking and for each of those deaths, at least two youth or young adults become regular smokers each day. Almost 90% of those replacement smokers smoke their first cigarette by age 18. Use of multiple tobacco products—including cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco—is common among young people so prevention efforts must focus on young adults ages 18 through 25, too. It has been well documented that almost no one starts smoking after age 25. Nearly 9 out of 10 smokers started smoking by age 18 so it appears to be worthwhile to target adolescents for smoking prevention.   Information from the North Carolina Youth Tobacco Survey of 2015 reveals that approximately one in every 10 (41,008) middle school students is a current tobacco user and approximately three in every 10 (125,115) high school students are current tobacco users.

Smoke from other people's cigarettes, cigars, or pipes is called secondhand smoke. Radon and second-hand smoke can also cause lung cancer. Ask your doctor about an x-ray (low dose CT scan) for lung cancer screening. This is recommended in adults 55 to 80 years of age who have smoked for 30 pack years or who have quit within the last 15 years.


Some Tests to Ask Your Doctor About if You Have Symptoms:

  • Chest x-ray:  This is the first test your doctor will do to look for spots on our lungs.

  • CT scan: This is also called a “CAT scan.”  A CT scan is a special kind of x-ray that takes pictures of your insides.

  • PET scan:  A type of sugar is put in one of your veins for this test.  If there is cancer, the sugar shows up from the camera as “hot spots” where the cancer is found.

  • Biopsy: A small piece of the lung tumor is sent to the lab to see if there are cancer cells.

  • Bronchoscopy: The doctor looks through a thin, lighted flexible tube which is passed through your mouth into the bronchi to find tumors.


FOR MORE INFORMATION:   1-800-227-2345


Ask your doctor about screening recommendations.  Be knowledgeable about your family history; know yourself and your risks.  Control your smoking habits (Don’t Smoke or Stop) and Control your weight by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and exercise regularly.

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