Awareness about COPD and Lung Cancer Essential to Diagnosis, Patient Treatment and Support, says American Lung Association
November is COPD Awareness Month, an important time to learn your risk and speak with your doctor if you have symptoms
(November 16, 2016) - CHICAGO
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Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are serious lung diseases that are often not diagnosed until a late stage. November is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Awareness Month as well as Lung Cancer Awareness Month, an important opportunity to raise awareness about each disease and highlight resources to support patients and their caregivers, according to the American Lung Association.
"When you can't breathe – nothing else matters. And this is especially true for those living with a lung disease," said Meilan King Han, M.D., volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association. "Every day the American Lung Association works to support patients and caregivers through funding research and offering programs, services and science-based lung health information. We know that the first step in getting patients the care they need is awareness, so that they know to speak with their doctor and ask for help if they're having trouble breathing."
Millions living with undiagnosed COPD
COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a chronic lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. The disease is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., yet many Americans are unaware that they have this disease. In fact, between 2007 and 2010, around 8.5 million adults had been diagnosed with COPD, but another 18 million had evidence of impaired lung function, signaling they may have undiagnosed COPD.
"When some patients are short of breath, many may assume that this is just a natural part of aging and may never mention these symptoms to their doctor," said Han. "At the end of the day, those individuals living with undiagnosed COPD could get treatment to greatly improve their quality of life, including support through Better Breathers Clubs, but they need to ask their doctor and communicate with their healthcare team."
COPD can be caused by smoking, air pollution, secondhand smoke and dust, fumes and chemicals and Alpha-1 Deficiency. The American Lung Association recommends that those experiencing COPD symptoms—chronic cough, shortness of breath, frequent respiratory infections, significant mucus production (also called phlegm or sputum) and/or wheezing—speak with his or her doctor about obtaining a breathing test called "spirometry" which can help diagnose COPD.
Lung cancer #1 cancer killer, yet awareness extremely low
According to the Lung Association's 3rd annual Women's Lung Health Barometer, despite being the #1 cancer killer of women, 98 percent of women do not have lung cancer as a top-of-mind cancer concern. In fact, more than 70 percent of women believe that not enough is being done to raise awareness about this disease. LUNG FORCE—a national initiative led by the Lung Association to unite women against lung cancer—is working to raise awareness about lung cancer, its risk factors and screening options.
"Awareness about lung cancer and the availability of screening for high-risk populations is key to detecting lung cancer early, when more treatment options are available," said Han. "LUNG FORCE is educating the public about lung cancer, and helping patients and their caregivers access support."
Risk factors for lung cancer include smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, radon gas, air pollution or genetic factors. Screening with annual low-dose CT scans for those considered high risk for lung cancer is now covered by most health insurance companies and Medicare. The American Lung Association recommends speaking with you doctor if you believe you may be at risk for lung cancer, and offers a quiz to determine if an individual should be screened for lung cancer at Lungcancerscreeningsaveslives.org.
The connection between lung cancer and COPD
Both COPD and lung cancer share risk factors, and in addition to this, according to Han, actually having COPD is a unique risk factor on its own for lung cancer.
"Patients with COPD may also be more likely to develop lung cancer, but this is not only because they have shared risk factors—tobacco use, air pollution and secondhand smoke—in common. Studies have found that having COPD in itself is a risk factor for lung cancer which may be driven by the presence of emphysema," Han said. "Furthermore, many patients who have COPD also meet screening criteria for lung cancer. Therefore it is important for at risk individuals to talk to their doctors about whether testing for COPD or screening for lung cancer are right for them."
Raising awareness, finding support
The American Lung Association offers support for lung disease patients, their loved ones and caregivers, as well as the general public with lung health questions through Lung.org and the toll-free Lung HelpLine, 1-800-LUNGUSA, which is staffed by respiratory therapists, certified tobacco cessation counselors, registered nurses and other health professionals.
For media interested in speaking with an expert on lung health, COPD or lung cancer, contact Allison MacMunn at Media@Lung.org or 312-801-7628.
About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.