BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Lung Cancer is the deadliest type of Cancer in the United States according to the CDC.
With November being Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a local oncologist spoke about who is most at risk and what resources Kern County for prevention of this diagnosis.
Historically it has affected men at higher rates than women, according to the CDC from 2018. But, according to Dr. Ravi Patel, medical director and oncologist at the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center, that gap is slowly changing as they are seeing more women patients.
Meanwhile, he said technology is catching up and there are more treatments now than ever.
“There are treatments now which makes the immune system recognize cancer cells in the body and attack them. And for Lung Cancer that is a very powerful new kind of treatment where you use immunotherapy drugs to stimulate the immune system to attack the cancer,” said Patel.
He said while there are plenty of treatments available for Lung Cancer patients, some people still gravitate towards herbal medicine. He notes those are sometimes more dangerous than beneficial.
“Herbal medicines interfere with regular treatments for cancer. So, if you are taking herbal medicines mention to your oncologist, just don’t keep on taking them without telling them,” said Patel.
He said another myth around Lung Cancer is that secondhand smoke causes Lung Cancer, he said although possible, they really do not see this. A majority of cases are among the ones who are smoking and the best way to protect yourself is simply not to smoke.
Patel said if you took all the Breast Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer patients and added them together, there would still be more Lung Cancer patients in the U.S. the main reason for that is people continue to smoke.
Patel said this lung cancer is very preventable. If it is not due to smoking, lung cancer is otherwise very rare.
With tobacco use playing such a role in these cases, Kern Family Health Care launched a program this year to help people quit smoking in hopes of preventing any more lung cancer cases as well as other health issues that come from smoking.
“In the state of California, we have seen a decline in current smokers but unfortunately here in Kern County, we have seen an increase. So, our numbers here are much higher than the state average,” said Bernardo Ochoa, MPH, Member Health Educator, Kern Family Healthcare.
Ochoa added this is concerning in terms of increasing health issues like lung cancer, especially as smokers start younger.
“We have seen as early as 10 to 12 that are current smokers and a lot of times it is past behavior right. Mom and dad, grandpa smoke at home so kids naturally will want to grab cigarettes,” said Ochoa.
He said they have also been seeing vaping increase among younger people.
With vaping becoming increasingly popular, Dr. Patel said it is too early to say about the risk and connection of this method to cancer but notes vaping does cause what is called popcorn lung. This is when there is damage to your lung airways which makes you cough and feel short of breath.
Coughing and shortness of breath are also symptoms for Lung Cancer which those who smoke should be on the lookout for.
At the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center, smokers who are older than 50 years old may qualify for a free screening. You can call them to get more information. For those trying to quit, Ochoa recommends looking for a support program to help start that journey.