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Lung Cancer: Shifting From Treatment to Prevention

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Lung cancer develops when cells abnormally grow in the linings of the lungs, forming a malignant tumor. There are two types of lung cancer ‘small cell lung cancer’ (SCLC) and ‘non-small cell lung cancer’ (NSCLC). Lung cancer is especially fatal because it tends to spread rapidly to other parts of the body such as the brain, bone and the liver. The survival rate is approximately 17% after 5 years of diagnosis and is the most common cause of cancer death in men and women. Most patients won’t develop symptoms until well after they have contracted the disease.

There are several methods to treat lung cancer including surgical resection which involves the removal of either of a segment of the lung, the lobe of the lung or an entire lung containing the tumor. This surgery can cure early stage NSCLC, however it is ineffective if the tumor develops too far and on SCLC cancers. Other treatments include radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which attempt to destroy cancer cells.

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Over the last few years focus has shifted from treatment to prevention. This has been done because treatment is ineffective, expensive and lowers the quality of life. Dependent on whether lung cancer is treated in a public or a private hospital the cost of treatment can be very expensive to not only the individual but also to the healthcare system. Lung cancer is currently estimated the Australian health system $107 million per year in medical services used to treat lung cancer and approximately $33,400 for each patient to pay for these services. Not only this, but also an individual suffering from lung cancer will likely lose their job significantly reducing their income. This directly affects the quality of life for not only the sufferer but also the people around them who are forced to care for them. These outcomes can be avoided if preventative strategies are being put in place.

High risk behaviors which increase an individual’s chance of lung cancer are smoking, excessive inhalation of radon and air pollution. These risk factors are largely preventable and this is why Australia has moved towards promoting healthy lifestyle opposed to treating lung cancer after it is contracted. Easily implemented behaviors include not smoking, avoiding second hand smoke and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. The Australian government has implemented the ‘Quit’ campaign to encourage people to quit smoking, they have also increased prices of cigarettes and created blank packaging to discourage people from smoking.

Decreased smoking rates over the last few years have directly correlated with the number of lung cancer cases, proving that the introduction of preventative strategies and changes in lifestyle behaviors has significantly reduced the incidence of lung cancer. In 1962, it was discovered that smoking was directly related to lung cancer and so a taxation on smoking and restrictions on sales to children were introduced, since then male lung cancer cases have dropped by over 25%. The benefits of the shift from treatment, to prevention, far outweigh its limitations. Prevention allows for minimized costs to the government and the healthcare system and by heavily taxing cigarettes more money can be gained to be put into less preventable diseases which require more attention. These preventing measures can also lead to a better quality of life, to not only the sufferer but also the people around them. Unfortunately, some lung cancer cases are caused by non-preventable factors such as family history or accidental exposure to harsh chemicals. These factors are difficult to control and will have to be treated after it has been contracted. Health initiatives such as the ‘Quit’ campaign can’t guarantee that all individual’s will stop smoking, but it can merely encourage non-smoking behaviors meaning that individuals can still choose to uptake these unhealthy smoking habits and contract lung cancer.

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