Two kids wearing capes running through a backyard.
Limiting exposure to second-hand smoke will help reduce the risk of lung cancer in children and teenagers.

Lung Cancer Risk Factors

This article explores lung cancer and ways you can mitigate it in children and teens. A treatment option that can help is Libtayo, or cemiplimab, a drug used to treat certain cancers like advanced skin squamous cell carcinoma. It helps the immune system defeat cancer by blocking the PD-1 pathway.

10 Warning Signs of Lung Cancer

  1. Persistent cough or changes in a chronic cough.
  2. Chest pain, especially with deep breathing or coughing.
  3. Hoarseness or voice changes.
  4. Unexplained weight loss.
  5. Shortness of breath or wheezing.
  6. Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum.
  7. Frequent lung infections like bronchitis or pneumonia.
  8. Fatigue or weakness.
  9. Difficulty swallowing.
  10. Swelling in the neck or face.

What is Lung Cancer?

Cancer occurs when the cells in the body begin to grow uncontrollably, sometimes infringing on other organs and spreading all over the body. When cancer begins in the lungs, the type of cancer is called lung cancer. The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

Most lung cancers (80% to 85%) are the NSCLC type. SCLC accounts for about 10% to 15% of all lung cancers. Identifying the correct type of lung cancer is vital because the treatment for the cancer depends on the type. Sadly, lung cancer accounts for most cancer-related deaths in the United States.

What are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

The symptoms of lung cancer may differ from person to person, depending on the type of lung cancer and how far the cancer has spread.

The most common signs and symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • A general feeling of fatigue and “not feeling well.”
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Voice changes.
  • Persistent cough.
  • Chest pain.
  • Unintentional weight loss.
  • Wheezing.

Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

The most significant risk factor for lung cancer, hands down, is smoking and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking accounts for almost 90% of deaths due to lung cancer. Tobacco smoke contains 7,000 chemicals, some of which are known toxins for people and animals.

Vaping may also be a risk factor for lung cancer, but vaping (e-cigarette) products have not been in circulation long enough to study long-term effects.

Other risk factors for lung cancer are exposure to:

  • Second-hand smoke.
  • Radon (a naturally occurring odorless gas).
  • Asbestos.
  • Automobile exhaust.
  • Diesel exhaust.
  • Silica.
  • Radiation.

A family history of lung cancer is also a risk factor. The chance of developing lung cancer is higher in family members who have been diagnosed with lung cancer. This risk may be higher in families due to common environmental exposure.

For example, family members often share the same living areas and might have the same exposure to second-hand smoke, asbestos, or radon.

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Treatment Options for Lung Cancer

Treatment options for lung cancer depend on the type of cancer, location, and how far the cancer has spread. Individuals with NSCLC are typically treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Those with SCLS usually receive radiation and chemotherapy as treatment.

Surgery is an invasive operation where a doctor removes cancer tissues.

Chemotherapy utilizes specialized medication to kill or reduce the amount of cancer.

Radiation therapy consists of high-energy rays to shrink or kill cancer cells.

Mitigating Risk Factors for Children and Adolescents

According to the American Cancer Society, more people die from lung cancer than breast and prostate cancer combined. Most lung cancer diagnoses occur in adults who are 65 or older, with the average age of diagnosis being 70. Lung cancer in people younger than 45 is rare.

Although young people aren’t often diagnosed with lung cancer, lung cancer develops over time. What’s more, lung cancer in non-smokers is on the rise. Because of the increase of lung cancer in people with no smoking history, it’s important to protect children and adolescents from any risk factors that can lead to lung cancer.

Limiting a child or teen’s exposure to these substances early in life, while their bodies are developing, can reduce their chances of developing lung cancer as adults. The following are steps caregivers can take to limit a child or teen’s exposure to lung cancer risks:

  • Smoking increases a person’s risk for lung cancer significantly. Caregivers can establish a smoke-free environment in the home by not smoking and asking guests not to smoke. Having an open dialogue with children and teens regarding the dangers of smoking helps prevent smoking in the future.
  • Exposure to smoke increases a person’s risk for lung cancer. Although children don’t smoke, the people around them might. That second-hand smoke can place them at risk. Caregivers who smoke can take the initiative to quit smoking or not smoke in the home or near children and teens.
  • Install radon sensors in the home. Radon sensors help detect radon levels in the environment.
  • Limit a child’s exposure to air pollution, like heavily trafficked areas and factories, if possible.

Lung cancer is rare in children and adolescents. Because most lung cancers are due to lifestyle-related risk factors like smoking, children and adolescents aren’t often diagnosed with lung cancer.

However, most lung cancers occur through exposure and inhalation of substances like smoke, silica, and radon over time. Keeping children and teens away from these substances as much as possible is the first step to reducing their lung cancer risk throughout their lives.