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By Charlene Price-Patterson

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer. It kills more people than breast, colon, pancreas and prostate cancers combined. Each year, about 160,000 people die from lung cancer. It’s the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Anyone can get lung cancer.

Unfortunately, lung cancer research is underfunded. According to the National Institutes of Health, the government spent $26,398 per breast cancer death while spending only $1,442 per lung cancer death in 2012. Some people believe that part of the problem is the stigma associated with the disease.

Uniting Against Lung Cancer reports that three out of four people have a negative bias against lung cancer, and that negative bias is blocking efforts to find a cure. Their findings include research to support the following: One out of five lung cancer victims never smoked and three out of five do not smoke.

Until a disease impacts your life it may not get your full attention. That was the case in our family. In October 2002, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Six months later, she passed away. It was devastating. My mother had not smoked for 25 years before she was diagnosed. She also worked in an environment with secondhand smoke for several years.

In order to help our mother, who lived in Buffalo, my siblings and I quickly learned as much as we could about lung cancer. It is called the silent killer because by the time it is diagnosed, it is often too late to stop it.

Symptoms can include coughing, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite, coughing blood, fatigue and recurring infections. Signs of advanced stages include bone pain, headache, dizziness, limbs that become weak or numb, swelling of the face, arms or neck, jaundice and lumps in the neck or collarbone region. The earlier you get treatment, the better your chances to fight it. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Some patients also try medications and clinical trials.

Risk factors for lung cancer include smoking, age (two of three cases are diagnosed in people over 65), genetics and lifestyle, including secondhand smoke, exposure to asbestos and other pollutants, and exposure to radon. To learn more about your specific risk, go to atriskforlungcancer.org.

If you have concerns or questions, talk to a physician. But it’s also important to do your own research. Getting a spiral CT scan is very important in detecting lung cancer. If our family had been educated about that procedure earlier, it could potentially have been life-saving.

November shouldn’t be the only time to learn about lung cancer. Being proactive about your health is a good idea all year long.

Charlene Price-Patterson is a freelance writer who lives in Charlotte, N.C.