WORDS HANNAH MAY-LEE WONG
According to the Malaysian National Cancer Registry Report (2012-2016), lung cancer is the third most common cancer in our nation. However, late diagnosis of the disease is common in our country. Only 3 to 4% of those diagnosed with lung cancer are in Stage I, while up to 90% are in Stage III or Stage IV.
What are the symptoms?
Respiratory and internal medicine specialist Dr Ronald Lim Chor Kuan explains: “This disease causes very limited symptoms and may even be asymptomatic at the early stage, resulting in difficulty in early diagnosis.”
Symptoms of lung cancer include:
- Persistent cough
- Chest pain
- Haemoptysis (blood in cough)
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of weight or appetite.
These symptoms are commonly brushed off as a prolonged cold, which could be one of the reasons why lung cancer is often diagnosed so late.
What are the risk factors?
According to Dr Lim, approximately 85 to 90% of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarette smoking. There is also a 20 to 30% increased risk of lung cancer from second-hand smoke exposure associated with living with a smoker. Thus, both active and passive smokers carry the risks of developing lung cancer.
Other risk factors of lung cancer include:
- Family history
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or pulmonary tuberculosis
- Exposure to radiation, asbestos, diesel exhaust and other dangerous elements
Dr Lim adds, “Never forget indoor pollutants, as it is a major risk factor for lung cancer in Asian women who’ve never smoked before.”
Is there any way to reduce the risk of lung cancer?
Smoking is the main risk factor for lung cancer.
“If you’re smoking, make a concentrated effort to quit. It can be hard for the first few months, but your lungs will thank you for it.
“Also, if you are surrounded by second-hand smoke, walk away—you have the right not to inhale.
“And with everything else, eat in moderation, exercise regularly, and go for your regular health screenings,” Dr Lim says.
High-risk groups should get screened for lung cancer with LDCT (low-dose computer tomography). These include people who:
- Have a history of heavy smoking, and
- Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years
- Are above 55 years old.