Several years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) found lung cancer to be the most common cancer worldwide. Accounting for 1.8 million new cancer cases in 2012, lung cancer was deadly enough to claim more lives than prostate, colon, and breast cancer combined.
Five years later, lung cancer is still responsible for almost 1 in 5 cancer deaths annually. Millions of dollars go into lung cancer prevention and research across the world – mostly, as we know from heavy advertising campaigns, to encourage people to stop smoking. But in truth, the problem is much bigger; up to 24,000 people who die from lung cancer each year have never smoked at all.
In making a true difference to lung cancer prevention, the first step is raising awareness of the many different causes and risks associated with the disease. World Lung Cancer Day, a day dedicated to “commemorating, celebrating, and supporting” those impacted by lung cancer, is 1 effort to do so – especially for the underrepresented.
Mesothelioma and World Lung Cancer Day
For the sixth year running, countries across the globe are coming together to observe World Lung Cancer Day (WLCD) on August 1. The aim, says the Lung Cancer Foundation, is to recognize every aspect of the disease and its global impact. By joining hands as “1 strong global voice,” we may better prepare to fight for prevention.
“We would like to remind everyone of the dismal numbers and statistics associated with this disease,” the Foundation’s website reads. “A lot has been achieved, but a lot more needs to be done.”
As deadly as it may be, lung cancer is a preventable disease. The goal of World Lung Cancer Day is to educate more people about this reality, and to get as many as possible involved with offering support. But anti-smoking efforts simply aren’t enough.
According to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC), risk factors reach far beyond smoking. Lesser known factors include aging, a history of cancer in other areas of the body, other lung diseases, radiation, and the environment. The environment alone poses enough threat. In the U.S., as well as other developed countries, the public could be exposed to industrial hazards such as radon, uranium, arsenic, and asbestos at any time.
Take asbestos, which kills more than 15,000 Americans each year. Over a long history of insulating and strengthening commercial materials, the deadly mineral, which was used for its natural strength and fireproofing, riddled industry workers with several types of serious diseases, including mesothelioma.
Is Mesothelioma Lung Cancer?
Asbestos was used heavily in the 20th century, affecting those working in construction and similar industries across the world. Yet, it took quite a while for the American public to acknowledge and recognize its dangers. By this time, it was too late; mesothelioma was already accountable for around 3,200 new cancer cases annually.
Since asbestos corporations hid the mineral’s health risks from their employees for decades, and mesothelioma is a relatively rare form of cancer, the disease largely remains misunderstood. Nonetheless, it is much too serious to ignore.
Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer of the thin membranes protecting major organs, including the heart, abdomen, and most commonly, the lungs. When asbestos is inhaled, its fibers become lodged in this lining and cause irreversible cell damage. Once cancer forms, the prognosis is poor; patients rarely live more than 12 months past diagnosis. Prior to diagnosis, the disease may have developed with no symptoms over as many as 50 years.
While mesothelioma has the same symptoms, treatment options, and prognosis as other forms of lung cancer, the key difference is in the cause and the only culprit is asbestos. With only 1 cause to concern ourselves with – especially 1 so poisonous and unnecessary – prevention should be simple. But not enough people are aware of asbestos exposure risks, making initiatives like World Lung Cancer Day all the more important.
What Can You Do?
The IASLC World Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC) is perhaps the most renowned meeting dedicated to the disease, gathering over 7,000 activists, health professionals, scientists, and patients from more than 100 countries to discuss the latest in research efforts.
Beyond IASLC members, every member of the public can make a difference, however small, in showing support for those with mesothelioma and other types of lung cancer. This could be something as simple as wearing a white ribbon and sharing its meaning with family, friends, and the community; setting up a fundraiser page online; joining social media groups; or sharing IASLC fact sheets.
Those who have had first- or second-hand experience of lung cancer likely have valuable information to share with others who may be struggling with similar circumstances. Survivors and their families can play an active role in the movement by, for example, writing a feature for a local magazine or newspaper, or sharing experiences online and at events.
One step further than raising awareness is actually contributing to research. Less than 3 percent of cancer patients participate in clinical trials; most simply aren’t aware that their treatment facility conducts them. Knowledge is an invaluable power against lung cancer, so researchers encourage more patients to talk to their doctor and see how they can help.
Not sure where to start? Just a little research can inspire. Explore the web and educational materials, or see what events are happening in your area. Remember that tomorrow is about sharing and building upon knowledge not just in our nation, but around the world. In the fight against lung cancer – whether rare or not – we can only be stronger together.