November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. When you think of lung cancer you likely associate the disease with smoking. Exposure to tobacco smoke is the most important risk factor in the development of lung cancer. Each puff of cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and at least 69 of those chemicals are known carcinogens. We will return to this risk momentarily.

Cancer is the word used to describe a group of diseases in which normal cells change, grow and divide out of control. This out-of-control growth causes problems, such as the creation of a mass (tumor).

Cancer can also affect the tissue surrounding the mass and interfere with the functioning of organs or break away from the original mass and spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).

Lung cancer is when cells of the tissue of the lungs grow out of control.

You are considered at high risk for lung cancer if you are a current or former smoker with a smoking history of at least 30 pack-years.

Pack-years are determined by duration a person smokes and how many packs they smoke each day. One pack a day for 30 years and two packs a day for 15 years are both equal to 30 pack-years.

Needless to say, one great way to lower your risk of lung cancer is to avoid smoking cigarettes altogether.

Although it is important to understand that quitting smoking can significantly improve the damage in the lungs it does not completely reduce your risk of lung cancer to that of a “never smoker.”

However, don’t assume every person battling lung cancer brought the disease upon themselves through smoking. While people who smoke do increase their risk for lung cancer, 28,000 nonsmoking Americans will die this year from lung cancer.

It is estimated that 80 percent of those diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked, like Lompoc’s own Mary Anne Rios, or are former smokers who quit decades ago.

The National Shine a Light on Lung Cancer Vigil is a national campaign to raise awareness and support for lung cancer. Join Rios in her fourth year as host of the annual Shine a Light on Lung Cancer Vigil from 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Lompoc Elks Lodge #2274. The vigil will include a DVD tribute to lung cancer fighters and advocates, a silent auction, refreshments and a no-host bar.

For more information about lung cancer, resources for you or your family or to help those impacted by the disease you can visit http://www.lungcanceralliance.org/.