Wednesday, January 18, 2017 | Updated at 4:53 AM ET

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Cancer Specialist Dr. Jorge Gomez Explains Risks Factors Behind Lung Cancer

First Posted: Nov 13, 2015 05:00 AM EST

The goal of doubling lung cancer survival by 2022 begins with spreading awareness about lung health during Lung Cancer Awareness Month. November is an annual opportunity to increase survival rates, promote prevention and inform the public about the realities of lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Awareness Month dates back to 1995, and it was founded due to the growing lung cancer community. The need for adequate research, advocacy, information and research grew in importance once the sweeping harm cause by the disease was understood. Lung cancer causes more cancer deaths than any other form of cancer, and it's the second most common cancer for women and men in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Educating the public on information regarding prevention, detection, management and treatment can save countless lives and improve quality of life for others.

"One of the more important misconceptions about lung cancer is that lung cancer is just a cancer of smokers," Dr. Jorge Gomez, lung cancer specialist from Mount Sinai in New York, told Latin Post.

"About 10 percent of patients with lung cancer are patients who've never smoked. Also, there are a significant number of patients who've smoked in the past or are former smokers, and they've quit. After quitting, patients believe the risk of lung cancer becomes normal again. Unfortunately, that's not true. When you quit smoking your risk of lung cancer decreases, which is very good. ... So it's important to quit smoking, but it never goes back down to normal. So, you're less likely to get lung cancer if you don't smoke or smoked 20 years ago and stopped than if you continue smoking, but your risk is never back down to normal."

Dr. Gomez explained lung cancer is the cancer most affected by tobacco, and yet tobacco influences many other cancers. Tobacco also contributes to cancers of the head, neck and throat and boosts cancer of the gastrointestinal track and contributes significantly to cancers of the genital or urinary track, especially the bladder. Smoking also has a significant influence over bladder cancer.

While cigarette smoke is the leading cause of death for lung cancer, it isn't the only cause. The colorless, tasteless naturally occurring gas radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Family history and air pollution are also contributing factors. Approximately two-thirds of lung cancer cases are found in women who formerly smoked or never smoked. Additionally, lung cancer diagnoses nearly doubled over the past four decades across for women across all ethnicities and races, and yet only 36 percent of Latinas are aware of this. Also, only 21 percent of Latinas have talked with a doctor about lung cancer.

 "I can tell you from the perspective of an oncologist who sees lung cancer patients every day that living with lung cancer is not easy," Dr. Gomez said. 

"There are a lot symptoms that can cause pain and difficulty breathing, that can cause many different issues, some of which we can alleviate with treatments, and some of them in which can't. We try to make people feel better, but there are people who cannot feel better because their disease is too difficult to control."

According to the Lung Force website, lung cancer kills nearly twice as many women as any other cancer, and it's the No. 1 cancer killer of women in the U.S. Every five minutes a woman is diagnosed with lung cancer, and the five-year survival rate is only 18 percent, which is the lowest of all cancer types. It kills more people than pancreatic cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer combined. However, only 25 percent of Hispanic women are aware of that fact. More than 71,000 women in the U.S. will die in 2015 alone due to lung cancer. Just 17 percent of lung cancer cases among women are diagnosed at an early stage, contributing to cancer death.

"In terms of prevention, the important form of prevention for people who are smoking is to stop smoking, and for people who don't smoke is to not smoke," Dr. Gomez said.

"In terms of early prevention, which is very important, patients with high risks of cancer should undergo screening, a PET scan. It's been shown to decrease the mortality of lung cancer. For those non-smokers or those who've never smoked, it's important to visit your doctor and talk about your risk of lung cancer, and follow up on symptoms of lung cancer, which are mainly respiratory. Also, unexplained weight loss."

Health care professions impress the importance of discussing lung cancer, particularly among Hispanic patients who tend to be less informed about lung health. Dr. Gomez stated there are little differences in incidence and death rates when race and ethnicities are concerned. Nonetheless, where there is a higher prevalence of smoking, there's a higher incidence of tobacco-related lung cancer.

"It's not so much where you come from or anything else, but whether you smoke or not. Non-smokers or 'never smokers' are doing significantly better than smokers."

Dr. Gomez also talked about how lung cancer treatment has progressed in recent years. Today, certain populations of lung cancer patients can be treated with just a pill, which is much better than chemotherapy, and there's immunotherapy, which uses the body's immune system to fight cancer.

Those interested in learning more about lung cancer are encouraged to visit LungForce.org to learn about risk reduction. Also, individuals over 55, current or former smokers should feel free to take an online evaluation to learn about screening for lung cancer.

Awareness and education about the disease are crucial. Nov. 17 is Lung Force Giving Day. A national hospital network will match every gift up to $100,000.

© 2015 Latin Post. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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