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All About Lung Cancer in Jamaica

February 4, 2020

Lung Cancer is the fourth (4th) most common cancer in Jamaica and with both men and women developing the disease. Today for World Cancer Day, Jamaica Moves will highlight vital information about lung cancer, and other common cancers in Jamaica in an effort to encourage everyone to be vigilant and for those at risk to screen for the disease. 

 

We spoke with Pulmonologist (is a physician who specializes in the respiratory system) and Senior Medical Officer at the National Chest Hospital, who shed some light on lung cancer and its occurrence in Jamaica. 

 

What is lung cancer? 

There is primary and secondary lung cancer. In primary lung cancer, cancer originates in the lung, (in the tissue, the airway or in the lining) and in secondary (metastatic) lung cancer, the cancer starts elsewhere in the body and spreads to the lung.

 

Due to the unique structure of the lungs, someone may have lung cancer for a long time before they begin to experience signs and symptoms. 

 

 

Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

 

The number 1 risk factor for developing lung cancer is smoking, particularly tobacco smoke, whether this be first hand smoke or exposure to tobacco. This is because tobacco smoke in and of itself has a number of carcinogens and lung cancer is only one of the cancers that is linked to tobacco smoking.  

 

From the moment somebody starts smoking tobacco, it has its effects on the body. The risk of developing lung cancer has a direct correlation to the amount of tobacco exposure (recognizing that it’s not only cigarettes that contain tobacco), per day. The person who smokes more cigarettes is at a greater risk of developing lung cancer compared to someone who does not smoke. 

 

The risk also decreases if the person stops smoking. So people who don’t smoke, DON'T START! And if you smoke, STOP!

 

Other factors which increase someone’s risk for lung cancer include:

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD, (Lung Disease)

  • Exposure to certain pollutants

  • Operating within poorly ventilated conditions, for example indoor cooking fumes

  • Exposure to asbestos which can be found in older buildings

  • Exposure to silica dust found during mining or breaking up stones 

 

Signs and symptoms of Lung Cancer can include:

  • Persistent Cough

  • Coughing up blood

  • Shortness of breath

  • Persistent hoarseness

  • Pain (joint)

Depending on whether or not the cancer has spread other signs and symptoms could include:

  • Severe headaches

  • Muscle weakness

  • Swollen joints

  • Weight loss

 

Screening

In Jamaica there is no national screening programme or screening procedures for lung cancer. However the recommendation is for a low dose CT Scan.

It is used for persons who have a history of exposure to tobacco smoke but have no symptoms of cancer and who are between 55 and 80 years old.

If you do not smoke, don’t start! And if you smoke, we strongly recommend that you stop!”

- Dr. Terry Baker

Smoking itself is an addiction.

If someone decides to stop smoking, there are no formal support groups within the public healthcare system, but there are doctors who are trained to help people to stop smoking. We also advocate that people who are trying to quit should try not to engage with or hang out with others who are smoking. 

 

 

Treatment

Treatment options include: surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Surgery is usually a curative option applicable for very early stage lung cancer. In addition, chemotherapy may be administered to reduce the tumour(s). And radiotherapy may be an option for lung cancer which has spread.

 

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