Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the US. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined (The Society of Thoracic Surgeons).
Smoking causes a majority of lung cancers--both in smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke. But, lung cancer can also occur in those who have never smoked.
It’s believed that smoking causes lung cancer by damaging the cells that line the lungs. When you inhale cigarette smoke, which is full of cancer-causing substances (carcinogens), changes in the lung tissue begin almost immediately. At first your body may be able to repair this damage. But with each repeated exposure, the damage causes cells to act abnormally and eventually cancer may develop.
Based on the appearance of lung cancer cells under the microscope, there are different classifications of this disease.
The two general types of lung cancer include:
Small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer occurs almost exclusively in heavy smokers and is less common than non-small cell lung cancer.
Non-small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is an umbrella term for several types of lung cancers. Non-small cell lung cancers include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma (Mayo Clinic).
Race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status influence lung cancer incidence and mortality patterns; Black/African American men have the highest lung cancer incidence and mortality rates in the United State. Although cigarette smoking is the major risk factor for lung cancer, higher rates of lung cancer among Blacks occur even though they have lower smoking rates, smoke fewer cigarettes per day, and are less likely to be heavy smokers, compared to Whites.
Environmental factors could be at play; it’s possible that minority groups live in more heavily polluted areas which contribute to a higher prevalence of lung cancer. They’re also less likely to access proper healthcare to stop the cancer before it becomes fatal due to medical mistrust (Lin, et. al).
There is a need for comprehensive research to improve our understanding of the causes and mechanisms that contribute to lung cancer disparities.