By Mikey Hoeven

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, but fewer Americans are smoking and lung cancer rates are declining. Still, the disease is the number one cause of cancer death.

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November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and reminds us that we have more to do to prevent lung cancer.

About 220,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the U.S. each year, and more than 155,000 men and women are expected to die of the disease each year. In North Dakota alone, an estimated 480 will be diagnosed and 340 will die of lung cancer this year.

The biggest way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to never smoke, or if you do smoke, quit.

Smoking is responsible for about 80 percent of lung cancer cases in the U.S. In addition to cigarettes, smoking cigars, pipes, hookah or other tobacco products is harmful. The effects of ecigarettes on cancer risk are not yet known, so they should not be considered a safe alternative or cessation tool until more research is done.

Although smoking is the main risk factor for lung cancer, secondhand smoke, exposure to radon gas, or occupational exposure to certain toxic substances or radiation may also increase your risk.

Lung cancer symptoms, including a persistent cough, constant chest pain, hoarseness lasting a long time or shortness of breath, don't usually occur until the disease has progressed. If you are or were a long-time smoker, talk to a health care professional about the pros and cons of low-dose spiral CT screening, which can detect lung cancer at earlier stages, when successful treatment is more likely.

Quitting smoking is not easy due to the highly addictive nicotine found in cigarettes. A health care professional can connect you to resources to help you quit. Visit to learn more.

Mikey Hoeven is the spouse of Senator John Hoeven and is a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation's Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society and the FDA.