COPD – The Silent Epidemic

COPD affects an estimated 30 million Americans, and over half of them have symptoms but do not know it…

So, why am I writing about something so depressing right after Thanksgiving? Because Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) killed over 150,000 Americans last year. It’s the third largest killer in our country after heart disease and cancer. Over 16 million of us have been diagnosed with this irreversible disease with no cure, and another 10-15 million will develop it without knowing it. Early screening can identify COPD before major loss of lung function occurs.

What are the risk factors and common causes of COPD?

Most cases of COPD are caused by inhaling pollutants including smoking (cigarettes, pipes, cigars, etc.), and second-hand smoke. Fumes, chemicals and dust found in many work environments are contributing factors for those who develop COPD.  Genetics can also play a role in the development of COPD—even if you have never smoked or been exposed to strong lung irritants in the workplace. Another major factor is simply the air we breathe.

“It is enough to be grateful for the next breath.” ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast

I learned that I have COPD last winter after noticing how much of a struggle it was to breathe properly at 7,000 feet elevation. I had had no symptoms living at 5,000 feet for decades. I never smoked cigarettes and exercised regularly, but I still had bronchitis many, many times in my life. Cat scans also found nodules in my lungs, which can be a precursor to a lung cancer. The good news? My increased awareness and monitoring of my lung problems.

Go watch this excellent piece that appeared on CBS Sunday Morning this week to learn more about how COPD can be helped in pulmonary rehabilitation centers. Unfortunately, COPD has a big image problem, one that is keeping it from receiving needed government funding for research.

As you might guess, I have learned so much about this common killer, one that will only get more common as air quality declines. The first thing I learned is something that Senior Contributor Ted Koppel’s wife, Grace Anne Dorney Koppel also talks about in the above CBS piece. COPD can be seen as a “it’s your own damn fault” disease.

lung association

So now, when I tell others that I have COPD and they invariably ask me, “Did you smoke?” I respond with, “No, but I did breathe!”

To quote Grace Koppel, “Disease is blame free.”

 

Hard-won Insights Into Cancer

As a woman who was raised with an enormous fear of breast cancer, after my Mom experienced a radical mastectomy in her thirties, I had a lot to learn when I was diagnosed with COPD recently, and then discovered that I might have lung cancer. I noticed that the excellent program “Beyond Cancer” in CBS Sunday Morning todayfocused mostly on childhood and breast cancer, most women’s greatest fears. I would like to raise awareness that lung cancer is far more common.

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

I know what you’re thinking now: Yes but lung cancer only happens in smokers.

The average age for lung cancer is 70, and 80 percent of people who develop lung cancer have smoked at some time, 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.

purple cancer cell

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. It is estimated that if everyone past age 55 underwent regular screening, the mortality rate from lung cancer could be decreased by as much as 20 percent.

In summary, if you haven’t had a lung x-ray in years, get one now. The nodules in my lungs are small. I did not know that there is a very specific protocol depending on that size and number. In my case we will wait three months and then do another cat scan to see if they are growing.

IMGP5820

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? What’s happening in your lungs right now? It may be a good time to take a look!

Laura & Rasta Xmas-2012-CROPPEDI’m a newcomer to rural southern Colorado.  After two years I decided to compile a short journal about the ups and downs of moving from a good-sized city to rural America to build a passive solar retirement home:   Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado   Please share this information with your friends if they are considering similar life changes. Feel free to contact me directly to discuss any of these challenges, and to order your own signed copies of any of my books!  Cheers, Laura Lee  (email me: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com)

 

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?