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Lung cancer not just a smokers diagnosis: BC Cancer Agency

(Files by Brendan Pawliw-MyPGNow)

A respirologist with BC Cancer is debunking the theory that lung cancer is a smoker’s problem.

According to the agency, over 3,000 people are diagnosed each year, with nearly two-thirds of all cases succumbing to lung cancer – that equates to about six deaths per day.

Dr. Stephen Lam told Vista Radio people living in the north often have a much rougher time of it due to a couple of factors.

“We know that people in Northern BC have more advanced cancer but then there are also more people who are still smoking in the north as well.  This adds to other exposures, for example, environmental exposure so I think all these things work together.”

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Lam added there are three common factors that can lead to such a diagnosis for non-smokers.

“Being female is often higher risk, people who are of Asian origin especially those who are born outside of Canada as well as those who are exposed to air pollution on what we call PM2.5, which is a fine particulate matter that we breathe into our lungs that can cause lung cancer.”

P.M 2.5 (fine particulate matter) can also have significant consequences for our younger population if exposed to it for long periods of time.

“It can affect the lungs especially when they are young. The studies will show that even infants or young children that are exposed to normal levels of P.M. 2.5 had worse lung function compared to those who are exposed to a lower level. The level we are experiencing now with the BC wildfire smoke is actually very bad for the lungs especially for young people.”

There are two kinds of lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer, is found most commonly in heavy smokers. However, non-small cell lung cancer — which includes squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma can impact anyone especially those who have never had a cigarette in their life.

“In people who have never smoked, they predominantly have adenocarcinoma. It underlies the molecular makeup of the D-N-A makeup of these cancers can be totally different between those who have never smoked and the ones who always have. There are genetic changes in the cancer especially for the people who never smoked.”

According to data from the BC Cancer Agency, Northern Health has recorded an estimated 240 new lung cancer diagnoses this year with the 60-79 age bracket responsible for 165 of those.

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