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Published on November 09, 2018

Lung Health: Cancer, Pulmonary Fibrosis and Quitting Smoking

Lung Health: Cancer, Pulmonary Fibrosis and Quitting Smoking

In this Fox 8 House Call series, Cone Health experts discuss how to keep your lungs healthy, including:

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Symptoms of lung cancer may include an unexplained cough (especially with blood), unexplained chest pain and unexplained weight loss. However, these can also be symptoms of other illnesses. Unfortunately, symptoms of lung cancer usually do not appear until the disease is already in an advanced, noncurable stage.

One of the main ways to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking or never start. Also, be sure to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke and other known carcinogens. Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in this country and the leading cause among nonsmokers. If you smoke, you should think of lung cancer screenings as part of your yearly preventive health maintenance.

Smoking cessation plays an important role in a care management plan for lung cancer or lung disease. Cone Health provides free programs to help participants quit smoking.

Low dose CT screening is the only proven, research-supported method of detecting lung cancer at an early and treatable stage, which is why Cone Health has developed a lung cancer screening program for patients in the community. Since the screening program has been available, Cone Health has found more cases of stage I lung cancer than ever before, even in patients without symptoms. Individuals who are eligible for the program must:

  • Be between the ages of 55 to 77.
  • Smoke or have quit smoking within the last 15 years.
  • Have a 30-pack-a-year history of smoking (one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years).

Even if you have smoked all of your life, you still deserve to get the care you need to maintain your quality of life. Talk to your physician about the lung cancer screening program to see if it’s right for you. Cone Health Cancer Center takes a multidisciplinary approach to treating lung cancer by assembling their team of surgeons, radiologists, medical oncologists and other related health care professionals to meet each week to develop treatment plans for each lung cancer patient. To learn more about the screening program, call 336-522-8999 in Greensboro or 336-586-3492 in Burlington.

Screening centers are located in Greensboro, High Point, Kernersville, Reidsville and Burlington.

Sarah Groce is an adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner at LeBauer Pulmonary and Cone Health’s lung cancer screening nurse navigator.

Pulmonary Fibrosis

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a progressive, irreversible form of interstitial lung disease (ILD). IPF occurs when the lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred, making it difficult for the lungs to work properly. It is estimated that around 200,000 individuals are living with IPF in the United States, and the disease typically affects people 50 and older. The most common symptoms of IPF are shortness of breath, a dry cough or a crackly sound that can be heard during a lung exam. If ILD is suspected or confirmed by your physician, it is important to make an appointment with a pulmonologist experienced in treating ILD as soon as possible.

IPF is fatal. Patients who are diagnosed with the disease are usually only given a 2-5-year survival prognosis.

In Greensboro, LeBauer HealthCare at Cone Health was recently inducted to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation’s Care Center Network, only the second in the state to receive this designation and one of 60 in the nation. By being a part of this network, patients can rest assured that they are being treated by physicians with expertise in accurately diagnosing and treating IPF. A comprehensive, multidisciplinary team manages each case and patients have access to open clinical trials through their research partner. An active patient support group sponsored by the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation meets in Greensboro and is open to all patients.

In 2014, the FDA approved two medications, pirfenidone and nintedanib, that help slow the progression of IPF. While these medications do not serve as a cure or symptom modifier, they have proven to be a safe way to help slow the progression of mild or moderate IPF into later stages of the disease over the last 4 years. Both drugs are in pill form, taken daily. Not everyone responds to the medication, but these medications provide hope for patients with IPF, as before, there were no treatment options.

The only other treatment method currently available is a lung transplant, but promising research suggests that new treatment methods may be coming soon. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have ILD, call LeBauer HealthCare at Cone Health to learn more or for an appointment at 336-547-1801 and ask about the ILD program.

Dr. Murali Ramaswamy is a pulmonary and critical care specialist at LeBauer Pulmonary and a member of Cone Health Medical Group.

Tips to Quit Smoking

For those who smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health. Quitting can be a difficult process, but through the support of loved ones and others it is possible. Gaining support from family, friends, past smokers and/or actual support groups is the first step to successfully quitting the habit. By letting friends and family know you are trying to quit, they can help to hold you accountable and help you stick to the goal.

The most successful smoking cessation programs help you gradually quit instead of going cold turkey. On average, it takes 8 to 12 weeks to quit, and during that time you slowly decrease the number of cigarettes you smoke or the nicotine you ingest. Quitting successfully usually takes a combination of weaning the body off of nicotine and making behavioral changes to break the habit. Nicorette patches, gum and lozenges, and prescription medications, such as Chantix, are all nicotine replacement products that can help you avoid the action of smoking a cigarette while you’re working toward quitting. E-cigarettes and vaping have been suggested as a tool to help people quit smoking, but there isn’t data available to support that. Without more research on the side effects or potential health risks, health care professionals recommend caution when using these products.

Although these medication therapies can be successful in helping you quit, some of them have significant side effects. Discuss what options are best for you with a health care professional.

If you’ve been smoking for a long time, the habit has most likely become a part of your routine and you’ll need to work to change that. First, identify what triggers your cravings to smoke and then find ways to distract yourself when the desire to smoke comes. If you normally smoke with your morning cup of coffee or while you watch TV, it may help to keep a puzzle nearby that you can distract your mind with until the craving passes. Set small goals for yourself and have your loved ones or support network help keep you accountable to them. For example, set a goal that you’ll stop smoking in the car or in your home by a certain date and get help working toward that.

Cone Health offers a 4-class smoking cessation series at multiple Cone Health locations to anyone 18 years of age or older who smokes.

Gretchen Dawson is an oncology nurse practitioner at the Cone Health Cancer Center at Annie Penn Hospital.

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