Boomers & the Reality of Mortality

OK, for all of you young oldsters out there who have decided you will be living forever, this is fair warning.

signs-of-lung-cancer

I was recently diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), and no, I never smoked cigarettes! This is probably the result of living in dirty city air for 60+ years, and having what seemed like constant bronchitis since age 25. I also just moved to a home at 7,000 feet elevation. All of these factors caused shortness of breath and a request for a chest x-ray. Possible lung nodules were found leading to a cat scan this past Monday. As a non-smoking 61 year-old, I did not expect any problem. Instead my cat scan found a number of “nodules” in my lungs.

Overall, the likelihood that a lung nodule is cancer is 40 percent, but the risk of a lung nodule being cancerous varies considerably depending on several things like the size of them, whether you smoke, your occupation, shape of nodules and their rate of growth. Lung nodules — small masses of tissue in the lung — are quite common. They appear as round, white shadows on a chest X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan, and are often caused by previous infections.

Think it can’t happen to you? 

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, with 1.8 million new cases diagnosed yearly. In the United States, lung cancer is the most fatal cancer in women, surpassing breast cancer in 1987 as the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. It is also the most fatal cancer in men, killing more men than prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and colon cancer combined. Lung cancer in never-smokers is the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Overall, 27 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. are due to lung cancer.

Who Gets Lung Cancer?

lung-cancerThe average age for lung cancer is 70, and 80 percent of people who develop lung cancer have smoked, but lung cancer occurs in women and lung cancer occurs in non-smokers. While lung cancer in men who have smoked is decreasing, lung cancer in non-smokers is increasing.

It’s estimated that 20 percent of women who develop lung cancer in the U.S. have never smoked, and that number increases to 50 percent worldwide. Lung cancer also occurs in young adults – It’s estimated that 13.4 percent of lung cancers occur in adults under the age of 40. While this number may seem small, when compared to the incidence of lung cancer overall, it is not.

In summary, if you haven’t had a lung x-ray in years, get one. My nodules are small and so we have decided to go with a wait and see plan, with cat scans every few months. It’s only a problem if they start to grow.

Now I live in a rural Colorado county with nice clean air, but all those years of living in cities must be catching up with me… How about you?