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According to the National Cancer Institute, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. It is appropriate, therefore, that we dedicate an entire month to awareness about this terrible disease.

Although mesothelioma and lung cancer are different diseases, there are actually a number of similarities, beyond even the general similarities found in various forms of cancer.

Shared Causes

Both lung cancer and mesothelioma have been linked to asbestos and smoking. Although smoking is more generally associated with lung cancer and asbestos is more generally associated with mesothelioma, the truth of the matter is not so straightforward.

The truth is that smoking and asbestos have an impact on both diseases. When smoking and asbestos exposure are combined, the danger increases astonishingly. For example, people who smoke and work with asbestos are 45 times more likely to develop lung cancer. That same group is also significantly more likely to develop mesothelioma.

Outdated Stigmas

Lung cancer is often considered a “smoker’s disease,” and mesothelioma is often called an “old man’s disease.” While it’s true that smoking contributes significantly to lung cancer, and many old men develop mesothelioma, it’s extremely important to understand that these are not the only people who should be aware of the dangers of these deadly cancers.

Of the people who die each year from lung cancer in the U.S., about 15,000 of them never smoked. Some of these people developed lung cancer from second exposure; however, a significant portion of this group have a different tie to lung cancer. For example, radon – an odorless, colorless gas produced naturally by the decay of radioactive minerals in rocks and soil – is considered the second-leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco, not to mention other causes like air pollution and other environmental factors. There’s even some evidence that non-smokers’ lung cancer manifests differently than lung cancer in smokers.

Likewise, mesothelioma can develop in anyone who is exposed to asbestos. The reason it’s considered an old man’s disease is that it was mostly men in factories and shipyards who worked with asbestos. However, asbestos is present in millions of homes – especially older homes – across the country, in the form of insulation, floor tiles/linoleum, siding, and other materials. At one time, it was even used as decorative snow! Furthermore, second-hand exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, as was the case with Heather Von St. James, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 36 years after breathing in dust from her father’s work jacket when she was a little girl.

Need for Awareness

While a lot of people know that smoking and asbestos are both bad for you, they might not be aware of the other factors involved, such as the less common – but still just as deadly – causes, and most importantly how to prevent them.

Through observances such as Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, Mesothelioma Awareness Day in September, and Lung Leavin’ Day in February, we can help draw attention to important issues like these. Hopefully, if we reach enough people, we can even start to help reduce the incidence of not only lung cancer and mesothelioma, but many other types of deadly cancers and other diseases as well.