Inhale. Exhale. It’s so simple, but just what exactly does that mean? Lungs are hardworking organs and essential to life. They take in oxygen from the air and supply it to red blood cells. Red blood cells distribute oxygen to other organs and tissues. Then, our bodies use the oxygen to make carbon dioxide, a waste product that our lungs expel by exhaling.
“We normally take a breath 12-20 times a minute,” says Dana Toussant, nurse practitioner at Indiana University Health West Hospital. “This means we take about 20,000 breaths each day.”
This seamless process often goes unnoticed, but sometimes subtle warning signs such as a cough that doesn’t go away, chest pain, wheezing, reoccurring infections, weight loss or loss of appetite can lead to a lung cancer diagnosis.
“Unfortunately, most people with early stage lung cancer do not exhibit obvious symptoms,” says Dr. Anthony Rose, pulmonary and critical care specialist at IU Health West Hospital. “About 75 percent of patients with lung cancer show symptoms after their cancer has spread to other organs.”
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Indiana and across the country. Although the warning signs aren’t always obvious, smoking greatly increases the risk.
“Most lung cancer is attributed to smoking,” Dr. Rose says. “In fact, 85-90 percent of lung cancers are found in patients who are currently smoking or have previously smoked. Smoking is also closely linked to cardiovascular disease and emphysema.”
Exposure to secondhand smoke is also a major risk factor.
“We can’t always avoid secondhand smoke, but you do have control over several factors,” Toussant says. “Keep your home and car smoke-free. It’s okay to prioritize the health of your family members by asking visitors who smoke to step outside.”
Other ways to minimize exposure to secondhand smoke include choosing smoke-free restaurants (nonsmoking sections don’t actually provide protection from secondhand smoke), staying in smoke-free hotels while traveling and making sure the places where your child spends time, such as at daycare, do not allow smoking.
How do you know if you’re at risk for lung cancer? IU Health West Hospital offers a lung cancer screening program for those that are eligible. Lung cancer screenings can detect early-stage cancers, increasing the overall cure rate and saving lives.
To participate in this program, you must:
• Be 55 to 77 years of age.
• Have a history of smoking equal to or greater than 30 pack years. (Tip: To find your pack years, multiply the number of packs per day you smoke by the number of years you have smoked.)
• Currently smoke OR be a former smoker who quit less than 15 years ago.
• Not have had a chest CT scan in the past 18 months.
• Be asymptomatic (no signs or symptoms of lung cancer.)
• Before the lung screening occurs, you must meet with a lung cancer screening provider. In this visit, the provider will verify your eligibility, discuss screening benefits, follow-up testing and provide smoking cessation counseling on the importance of maintaining smoking abstinence.
If lung cancer is detected, a highly skilled team of specialists will work with you to provide a comprehensive, multidisciplinary plan for treatment.
To make an appointment or learn more about the Lung Screening Program at IU Health West Hospital, visit iuhealth.org/lungscans or call 317-217-2888.