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Dr. C. Joseph Bennett, Navigating Cancer, 7/8/14

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The battle against lung cancer

By Dr. C. Joseph Bennett

Last week, I began a series of articles discussing tobacco utilization and regulation in this country. As I stated last week, we are now celebrating the 50th anniversary of the very first surgeon general’s report on smoking and its health risk. This week, I want to go into further details about the importance of this study, and the success we have seen.

Though many would find it hard to believe in this day and age, cigarette smoking was not very common in the early part of the century. The development of automated machines for both cigarette and match production in the early portion of the last century initiated an explosive increase in the number of Americans who smoked. The trend continued to climb with the exception of a small decrease during the Great Depression until the 1960s, at which time over 40 percent of the United States population smoked.

Along with this, lung cancer was a very rare diagnosis in the 19th century. As a matter of fact, several reports from hospitals in Europe and North America at that time reported that lung cancer was responsible for less than 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed. However, in the first two decades of the 20th century, the death rate and diagnosis of lung cancer climbed substantially. Over the next 40 years, several researchers began to focus on the link between tobacco utilization and lung cancer, and eventually — based upon all of this research — the surgeon general was able to release the report in 1964.

Since that report, and looking back at the late 1960s, the number of Americans smoking has declined, and this is directly related to the impact of the surgeon general’s report on tobacco’s ill effects, and also the ban on broadcast advertising, the increase in the cigarette tax and, more importantly, education. 

Today, it is estimated that 242,550 cases of cancer of the respiratory tract, including the lung and the larynx (voice box), will be diagnosed in this country, and 163,660 people will die from this disease process. This does show a remarkable turnaround from the 1960s and the rates at that time. 

As a matter of fact, the incidence of lung cancer began to decline in the mid 1980s in men, and in the late 1990s in women as a result of reduced smoking habits. Overall, we have made great strides, but as one can see by the numbers listed above, thousands of Americans are still developing these cancers and dying from these cancers.

Next week, we will continue our series on tobacco utilization and lung cancer by looking at what makes the cigarette so deadly.

Dr. C. Joseph Bennett is a board-certified radiation oncologist. If you have any suggestions for topics, or have any questions, contact him at 522 N. Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461, or email cjbennett@rboi.com.