Breathing is barely noticeable, an automatic action that happens without thinking about it. Nevertheless, breath is fundamental, delivering life-giving oxygen from the surrounding air to cells in the human body. When breathing becomes difficult to do, it suddenly becomes very noticeable.
When the lungs become compromised, it can be a dire situation. For example, when cells undergo uncontrolled growth in the lungs, it is called lung cancer. Cancer is an abnormal condition in which cell division does not stop. These cancerous cells are created at such a high rate that they damage nearby tissue and may even travel to other body parts to settle (called metastasis).
Human lungs are so efficient and resilient that many lung cancer cases are not caught until they are well advanced. Screening is vital if you fit the risk profile or are having symptoms because early diagnosis can be the key to life-saving interventions.
Fortunately for those who have been diagnosed with lung cancer, there are complementary therapies that provide robust support during treatment. Better yet, there are easy-to-incorporate strategies to prevent lung cancer in the first place. General cancer prevention strategies can help reduce your risk of developing lung cancer.
Certain circumstances increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
Smoking cigarettes is the “number one risk factor for lung cancer,” according to the CDC (1). Light or low-tar cigarettes contribute to lung cancer risk to the same degree as regular cigarettes (2). Fortunately, lung cancer risk can be lowered by quitting smoking at any age (1) and can improve survival rates even after lung cancer diagnosis (3).
The following things also increase lung cancer risks (1, 2):
Inhaling secondhand smoke
Living in a house or working in a building that leaks radon gas (the second leading cause of lung cancer is radon exposure, and it is the leading cause of lung cancer among people who do not smoke)
Exposure to cancer-causing substances such as asbestos, diesel exhaust, and even airborne minerals
Previous incidence of lung cancer
Family members who have (or had) lung cancer
Radiation therapy in the chest area
Symptoms of lung cancer overlap with other types of cancer but have their own unique characteristics as well (4, 5, 6).
Cough that does not go away or shortness of breath
Coughing up blood
Inability to breathe deeply (shortness of breath)
Repeated cases of bronchitis or pneumonia
Voice becomes hoarse
Pain in the chest
Enlarged lymph nodes above the collar bones
Consistent joint or muscle pain that does not appear to have an underlying reason
Consistent night sweats or unexplained fevers
Bruising or bleeding that has no underlying reason
Changes in weight or unintentionally losing weight
Any unusual changes in the skin: change in color, prolonged healing time for wounds
When to Screen for Lung Cancer
If you fit the risk profile above or are experiencing the symptoms listed it may indicate it is time to get screened for lung cancer. Additionally, proactive screening could be appropriate for the following (7):
Those who have a smoking history that can be defined as a 20-pack year (or more) and
Have quit smoking anytime in the past 15 years or currently smoke and
Age is between 50–80 years old
*A pack-year is defined as smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. So, a person could have a 20 pack-year history by smoking two packs a day for 10 years or one pack a day for 20 years (7).
Various medical professionals can perform screenings for lung cancer, including oncologists, and general practitioners in various settings, or they can make referrals to screening centers. There are risks to screening, so it should only be done if there is an appropriate reason (7). Early detection is best, usually determined by low-dose CT scans, blood tests, or testing sputum samples (8).
Different Types of Lung Cancer Require Different Treatment
Oncologists specialize in cancer and practice the standard of care for cancer diagnoses. Besides the FDA-approved “standard of care” treatments for lung cancer, oncologists can often help patients enroll in clinical trials for promising new medications and treatments. The treatment course is determined only after careful diagnosis.
A lung cancer diagnosis is typically divided into two different types, “small cell” and “non-small cell.” These cancerous conditions have different characteristics, so their treatment protocols are different. Treatments for non-small and small cell lung cancer vary greatly depending on the type and stage of cancer and other factors (9, 10). Statistically, there are more cases of “non-small cell” lung cancer (11).
Healthy Lungs & Lung Cancer Prevention
Lungs are the specialized organs that breathe in air and enrich blood cells with oxygen to be transported to the rest of the body. After oxygen is delivered to the cells, red blood cells deliver carbon dioxide (CO2) back to the lungs, expelling it as waste. The human body depends on the lungs for life.
Besides being the organ that draws in vital oxygen, the lungs are considered a route of detoxification. Mucus in the lungs can surround and carry out microorganisms through coughing. Toxic substances in the bloodstream, such as alcohol, can be released through exhalation. Exercise involving heavy breathing forces these clearing processes to work faster than usual, which is why people feel they can breathe deeper and better after aerobic exercise. Healthy lungs thrive on exercise. However, it is not just about what you do; prevention is also about what you don’t do. Prevention strategies include:
Get help to quit smoking. If you are a current smoker, this is the number one way to greatly reduce your cancer risks (15). Smoking cessation programs provide support during the withdrawal process. If you don’t smoke, don’t start (14)!
Anything that increases blood oxygen levels is a tremendous benefit, including aerobic exercises and breathing exercises. This is because cancer cells can increase in a low-oxygen environment (12).
Consuming a healthy diet is vital to reducing cancer risk (14). Providing nutrients gives the body the building blocks to strengthen the immune system and increase the ability to repair damage. The Mediterranean diet is very nutritious and reduces the risks of multiple chronic illnesses (16). In general, diets high in antioxidant rich foods (eating a rainbow of plant based foods) and avoiding inflammation generating foods (sugar, carbohydrate rich foods, processed foods) is ideal.
Cancer requires glucose (sugar) to thrive and can even be identified by glucose uptake (13). Lowering the amount of sugar in the diet is a good preventive strategy.
Anything that helps rid the body of impurities and reduces the overall toxic burden can free the body’s resources to focus on combating cancer. Strategies might include saunas and trying liver detoxification.
Incorporate easy-to-implement strategies for all types of cancer prevention, including taking vitamin D, detoxification strategies, and exercising to reduce cancer risks.
Protect yourself from exposure to cigarette fumes, especially if you live with a smoker (14).
Test your home for radon gas (14). It is an odorless gas that requires special meters to detect.
If you work around cancer-causing substances, strictly obey the safety rules at work.
Complementary Therapies for Those Getting Lung Cancer Treatment
Integrative medicine embraces nutrition, supplements, and therapies that work with the body to make it as strong and resilient as possible. These modalities do not replace the standard of care for treating cancer; instead, they support the body while undergoing therapy and are considered complementary.
Several therapies are particularly well-suited to help those who find themselves with lung cancer:
Intravenous (IV) therapy delivers potent bioactive substances directly into circulation. Vitamin C and glutathione are examples of potent nutrients that can be delivered intravenously. According to one study, IV vitamin C reduced mortality in severely ill patients (18) and, in another, decreased the side effects of some standard protocols for treating cancer (19).
Intravenous (IV) Ozone & UVBI therapy is a potent aid in reducing the toxic burden on the body, supporting the immune system and mitochondrial health, all of which are helpful while receiving cancer treatments. Blood is drawn from the body, put under pressure with ozone, and returned to circulation, where ozone can release its extra oxygen molecule to neutralize damaging free radicals and microorganisms in the circulation. Before returning to the body, ultraviolet blood irradiation (UVBI) can further sterilize and stimulate the blood without harming the blood cells. The combined therapies can reduce inflammation (20), stimulate immune system cells (20, 21), and help kill viruses and bacteria (21).
If you are receiving lung cancer treatments, TCIM has multiple complementary therapies to help your body be as strong as possible while undergoing treatment.
For those who do not have a lung cancer diagnosis, we strongly encourage people to try to prevent cancer. From our perspective, it seems to take much more time, effort, and money to undo an illness than to prevent it in the first place.
However, we are well aware that lung cancer can sneak up on people because sometimes the symptoms are often not recognizable until after cancer has been present for a long time. If you smoke and are avoiding a cancer screening, please contact us. If you are willing, some medications can help someone quit smoking, and we can point you to online and local resources for help.
If you have decided not to quit smoking, please do not let that keep you from getting quality healthcare. Together, we can look at ways to reduce (as much as possible) the health consequences of smoking. We aim to help all people with their health challenges and are privileged to partner with you.
Jonathan Vellinga, MD is an Internal Medicine practitioner with a broad interest in medicine. He graduated Summa cum laude from Weber State University in Clinical Laboratory Sciences and completed his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Upon graduation from medical school, he completed his Internal Medicine residency at the University of Michigan. Dr. Vellinga is board-certified with the American Board of Internal Medicine and a member of the Institute for Functional Medicine.
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