November is a month to take a deep breath. No, not just to diffuse any potentially stressful topics at the Thanksgiving table (although that's highly recommended, too), but also because it is the month the American Lung Association observes both lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) awareness.
The two diseases often go hand-in-hand. Experts estimate that 40 to 70 percent of people with lung cancer also have COPD.
COPD occurs as a result of airflow through the lungs being compromised, which can be the result of too much mucus in the airways or other factors. The result is a progressive shortness of breath, which can eventually affect the patient's ability to care for themselves. Coughing and chronic or repeated bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis are also often present. Although the disease afflicts more than 12 million Americans and is the third leading cause of death in our country, it can often go undiagnosed for a very long time.
Lung cancer, which also can go undiagnosed until later stages, has many of the same symptoms of COPD, but can also include coughing up blood, loss of appetite and weight and, potentially, hoarseness, arm or chest wall pain, and swelling in the neck or face.
While both diseases are closely linked to smoking, that is not the only risk factor. Environmental hazards also play a role. In fact, people who have never smoked make up about 20 percent of COPD patients, and 15 percent of lung cancer patients. Alarmingly, female nonsmokers seem to have a higher risk of both diseases than male nonsmokers. (One study found that four out of five nonsmokers with COPD are women and one out of 5 women diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked whereas in men who develop lung cancer, only 1 out of 12 have never smoked).
If you or someone you love are experiencing shortness of breath – or any other symptoms of COPD or lung cancer – it is vitally important to get a health screening as early as possible. While there is no cure for either disease, early detection can improve a patient's chances for successful treatment.
For more information on caring for yourself so you can better care for others, please contact us!
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