YOUR HOME CAN PUT YOU AT CANCER RISK

“I tell friends to worry more about lung cancer than breast cancer, because it kills more women than breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer combined. Here’s why: Women may be more vulnerable to DNA damage from smoke than men—even if they’ve never smoked themselves—and they’re also more likely to carry a genetic mutation that appears to make lung cancer more aggressive. Because lung cancer in women often forms on the sides of the lungs rather than near the airway, they may not develop the persistent cough and respiratory issues men do either.

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I’ll never forget a 40-year-old mom who was diagnosed with lung cancer after only feeling short of breath and losing weight. A friend finally noticed a swollen lymph node on her neck; by then, the cancer had spread to her brain, and she died five years later. How did this woman get lung cancer? Neither she nor anyone she lived with had ever smoked, and there was no family history—so the next thing to consider is radon exposure.

Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that gets into homes from the soil and groundwater, and it’s one of the leading causes of lung cancer. Learn how to test for it and reduce it at epa.gov/radon—next to never smoking, it could be the most important thing you do for your lungs.” —Shadia Jalal, M.D., thoracic oncologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

PARENT YOUR PARENT

“A friend’s mother was undergoing treatment for lymphoma and was so nauseated that she wasn’t eating well. My friend kept reminding her mom to talk to her doctor about it, but I told her, ‘No, you call her oncologist.’ I find that older patients are especially reluctant to talk about their symptoms—they don’t like to complain and don’t want to burden their kids—but it’s really important that a doctor see the whole picture. For one thing, we can help fine-tune treatment and make it more tolerable (by swapping nausea medications, for example) so her body is better able to fight off the cancer. If you can, come to your parent’s appointments—or send a sibling—and keep an eye on them in between treatments too. Stop by just to hang out, remind them to eat, and encourage them to drink lots of fluids. Keep a notepad by your bed so you can jot down questions that pop into your head at night, then call us in the morning. We can address any problems that arise in real time—there’s no need to wait until the next appointment.” —Jennifer Amengual, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and experimental therapeutics at the Center for Lymphoid Malignancies at Columbia University Medical Center.

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