7 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Lung Cancer Prevention

A NewYork-Presbyterian thoracic expert’s tips for lung and respiratory health.

7 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death due to cancer and the second most common cancer among both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke greatly increase a person’s risk of lung cancer, according to Dr. Benjamin Lee, chief of thoracic surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. However, he adds, there are other ways to prevent lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

In recognition of Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, Dr. Lee shared with Health Matters tips for lung cancer prevention and lung health.

1. Don’t smoke cigarettes. According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoking is the major cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which encompasses chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Cigarette smoke can narrow the air passages and make breathing difficult, causing chronic inflammation, which can lead to chronic bronchitis. Over time, cigarette smoke destroys lung tissue and may trigger changes that grow into cancer. If you smoke, it’s never too late to talk to your doctor about quitting.

2. Eat foods rich in vitamin C. A recent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study shows that a higher intake of antioxidant- and flavonoid-rich fruits, like apples and tomatoes, was associated with a slower decline in lung function, especially among ex-smokers. Eating about four servings of fruit per day can help support the long-term health of your lungs.

3. Prevent infection. Respiratory infections can become very serious quickly. Incorporate small habits into your life every day to protect yourself. Always wash your hands, brush your teeth twice a day, get a flu shot, and avoid crowds during cold and flu season.

4. Practice breathing techniques. Over time, we lose the ability to inhale the maximum amount of oxygen we need for our health. Practice breathing exercises like abdominal breathing, which can help you maintain correct posture and take full breaths. For patients who have pulmonary fibrosis or COPD, pulmonary rehabilitation can serve as part of the treatment routine. Rehabilitation programs combine exercise, education, and support to help patients learn to breathe and function at the highest level possible. Talk with your doctor about breathing exercises that would work best for you.

5. Minimize time in highly polluted areas. Air pollution can negatively affect you and your family’s lung health. Check daily air pollution forecasts in your area and stay indoors when the air is unhealthy in your community. Also avoid exposure to indoor pollutants that can damage your lungs, like secondhand smoke and radon, a naturally occurring gas that is colorless, tasteless and odorless. Test your home for radon – test kits are easy to use and inexpensive.

6. Exercise. Aerobic exercise can improve lung capacity, meaning the amount of oxygen you take in with each breath. Try to include some resistance workouts in your routines, such as going uphill during your daily walk or using the interval setting when running on the treadmill.

7. Visit your doctor as recommended. Regular checkups help you and your physician stay informed and updated on the state of your health. COPD and other lung diseases can often go undetected until it is too late, but seeing your doctor annually can help catch these diseases early and treat them effectively.

Benjamin Lee, M.D., is the chief of thoracic surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and an assistant professor of clinical cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine. He is a board-certified thoracic surgeon who specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders and diseases of the chest, including benign and malignant tumors of the lungs and esophagus.