Many of those at risk for lung cancer don’t seek testing, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month
The high elevations throughout Colorado can present breathing challenges for even the healthiest, most physically fit people, which is why it’s especially important to pay attention to lung symptoms that could signal something more serious.
Common lung diseases include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, asbestosis, restrictive airways conditions from tumors, inflammation or scarring, cystic fibrosis and allergies. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the American Lung Association.
“If lung cancer is caught before it spreads, the likelihood of survival increases from 11 to 55 percent,” according to the American Lung Association. “Today, there are an estimated 9 million Americans who qualify as high risk for lung cancer.”
What is high risk? If you’re between the ages of 55 and 80, you have a 30-pack-year history of smoking — meaning one pack per day for 30 years, two packs per day for 15 years, etc. — and you are a current smoker or you’ve quit smoking in the last 15 years, you are considered high risk for lung cancer.
The Memorial Hospital at Craig offers pulmonary function tests by registered respiratory therapists. These tests are typically ordered after a patient sees their doctor for chronic symptoms such as shortness of breath, chronic cough, chronic mucus production, chest pain, wheezing and coughing up blood, according to the American Lung Association.
“The patient wears a mask attached to a tube and performs several breathing exercises. Measurements are recorded on a device called a spirograph. Sometimes, a bronchodilator is given to see if there is improvement with a secondary test,” according to The Memorial Hospital’s website, which conducts the hour-long tests in a dedicated testing room.
Even in the absence of lung cancer, chronic breathing problems can be a sign of other lung diseases such as COPD, asthma, occupational lung diseases and pulmonary hypertension, according to the World Health Organization.
Memorial Regional Health offers a Respiratory Therapy Program that delivers both diagnostic and therapeutic treatments in both inpatient and outpatient settings at the hospital. In addition to diagnosing lung and breathing disorders via pulmonary function testing, the program also teaches patients how to use breathing devices, manages ventilators and airway devices for patients who need help breathing, and educates patients about lung disease in order to maximize their recovery, among other services.
Awareness and prevention
The American Lung Association recently conducted its 4th annual Lung Health Barometer survey to learn about lung cancer awareness. Among high-risk current and former smokers, only 15 percent were aware that lung cancer screening is recommended and covered by Medicare and most insurance plans. Also, 41 percent of the high-risk current and former smokers reported they did not intend to get screened for lung cancer.
The American Cancer Society reports that more people die of lung cancer each year than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.
The most reliable way to prevent lung cancer is to stay away from tobacco — both from smoking and from breathing in other people’s smoke, the American Cancer Society says.
“If you stop smoking before a cancer develops, your damaged lung tissue gradually starts to repair itself,” according to the American Cancer Society.
“No matter what your age or how long you’ve smoked, quitting may lower your risk of lung cancer and help you live longer.”