Lung Cancer: Smoking Gun

Lung cancer is the most deadly type of cancer. Nearly 60% of people die within a year after diagnosis, resulting in more deaths per year than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. Lung cancer is the second most prevalent cancer among Asian American men and third among Asian American women. Lung cancer rates among Southeast Asian Americans are 18% higher than among Caucasians and Chinese Americans have the highest death rates for lung cancer among Asian American groups. In the US, only 14% of Asian lung cancer patients live two years after diagnosis compared to 43% of non-Asians.

Chinese Americans have the highest death rates for lung cancer among Asian American groups. Additionally, Chinese American women have an unusually high incidence rate. The reason is unknown since Chinese American women have low smoking rates. Their high exposure to secondhand smoke at home or at work, as well as smoke from high-temperature frying may help to explain this disparity.

Overall, Asian and Pacific Islanders have a lower incidence rate compared to Caucasians and African Americans but Asians are more likely to postpone seeing a doctor after lung cancer symptoms arise. Asian patients typically seek medical attention about 4.4 months after developing symptoms compared to 1.7 months for non-Asians. As a result, only 14% of Asian lung cancer patients live two years after diagnosis compared to 43% of non-Asians.

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer, the most common type, and small cell lung cancer, a fast-growing type of lung cancer that makes up 20% of lung cancer cases. The lungs are made up of areas called lobes: the right lung has three lobes and the left lung has two. During inhalation, air goes down the windpipe and into the lungs where it spreads through tubes called bronchi. Most lung cancer begins in the cells lining these tubes.

Genetic differences among Asian ethnic groups may play some role in determining susceptibility to different cancers. Research has indicated that smokers who lack a certain gene—about 50% of the population lacks it—have a slightly increased risk of developing the disease. In general, lung cancer death rates correlate very closely with smoke exposure. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 3,000 non-smoking adults will die each year from lung cancer due to secondhand smoke.

The risk for developing lung cancer rises if you: smoke, are exposed to secondhand smoke, are over the age of 45, have a family history of lung cancer, and if you are exposed to high levels of air pollution, high levels of arsenic in drinking water, asbestos, and cancer-causing chemicals.


Early lung cancer may not cause any symptoms. Most of the time lung cancer is found incidentally when an x-ray is performed for some other reason. Symptoms depend on the type of lung cancer, but may include: a persistent cough, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain, loss of appetite, unintended weight loss and fatigue.

Additional symptoms that may occur with lung cancer are: weakness, swallowing difficulty, nail problems, joint pain, hoarseness or changing voice, swelling of the face, facial paralysis, eyelid drooping, and bone pain or tenderness.


Quit smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Avoid breathing in the smoke from other people’s cigarettes, cigars or pipes. Maintain your overall health by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and by exercising regularly.

Get tested. The earlier the cancer is found, the better chances of survival. Tests that may be performed include: chest x-ray, sputum cytology test, blood work, CT scan of the chest, MRI of the chest, positron emission tomography (PET) scan. In some cases a biopsy be performed by removing a piece of tissue from the lungs. lungs.


Treatment depends on the stage and type of lung cancer. In the beginning stages of non-small cell lung cancer, surgery is performed to remove isolated tumors from the lung. If the cancer has spread during later stages of the disease, chemotherapy is often used to prolong life.

Because small cell lung cancer spreads quickly throughout the body, treatment includes chemotherapy. Persons with advanced small cell lung cancer can undergo a combination chemotherapy and radiation therapy to relieve symptoms. Surgery is not often used for this type of lung cancer as the disease has usually spread by the time of diagnosis.