Friday February 28, 2014
Over the years I've had several moments in which I'm hit with a profound sadness when it comes to the public's knowledge about lung cancer.
It goes beyond the sorrow I feel as my heart hurts for those facing the stigma.
It goes beyond my wish to rescue those with lung cancer from the all-too-often careless remarks. Yes, many of you have shared that your neighbor's first remark upon hearing about your lung cancer was to tell you about his uncle who lived only 3 days with lung cancer.
There are many ways in which lung cancer is misunderstood, and it's not just the public that carries misconceptions. I've watched those with lung cancer reach out desperately, hoping to hear about someone who has survived long-term with the advanced stages of the disease.
What else would I preach from a podium given the opportunity? Check out these lesser known facts and misunderstandings about lung cancer:
Friday February 28, 2014
One thing I learned quickly after my diagnosis of cancer, was that traveling just wasn't the same. Something that had previously been fairly effortless now required careful thought and planning ahead - a process I was grateful to have invested time doing.
What are some things to think about before traveling - whether for treatment, or for pleasure?
1. Gather together your medical records and carry them with you. If you need medical care at your destination it will save you the anxiety and delay as your destination doctor attempts to decipher your medical history.
2. Consider that travel insurance the airlines offer in the event that you should need to cancel your flight. Not only may problems arise that could prevent travel, but it gives you a chance to back out on a trip if the side effects of your cancer and cancer treatment would make traveling uncomfortable.
3. Always carry your medications with you in a carry on, and bring extra medications along. If your trip should be delayed by weather, or if you simply wish to spend more time at your destination, you won't risk running out of your medications.
4. Bring a hat and purchase sunscreen on arrival. Both radiation therapy and some chemotherapy drugs predispose to sunburns.
5. If you have any special needs - such as needing portable oxygen or a mobility device - contact the airline at least 72 hours prior to flying to discuss the checkpoint process. Depending on the airline you may be required to have your doctor fill out a statement of need, or find an oxygen concentrator that is approved by the airline.
6. If your white blood cell count is low due to chemotherapy (chemotherapy-induced neutropenia,) ask your doctor if you should wear a mask in flight. It is also important to avoid foods such as raw eggs, meat, and seafood which could result in an infection.
There are many more things to consider before hitting the road or the skies. Check out these tips to help insure that you have an enjoyable journey:
Wednesday February 26, 2014
I was recently asked a very important question - and one that I'm sure many of you have entertained. How can you know if your lung cancer has spread?
Unfortunately the spread of lung cancer to distant regions of the body is all too common - and roughly 40% of people already have metastatic disease (lung cancer that has spread) at the time of diagnosis.
For those who have their lung cancer discovered at early stages of the disease, surgery offers a chance for a cure. But even with surgery, lung cancer can rear it's head later on in the form of metastases. How will you know if this has happened?
First of all it helps to know the most common areas to which lung cancer spread. The most common site is to local lymph nodes. Lung cancer spread to lymph nodes often occurs without symptoms, but can affect the treatment your doctor recommends as well as your prognosis. Other common sites of metastases include the brain, bones, the liver, and the adrenal glands.
When lung cancer spreads to the brain, symptoms may include headaches, seizures, loss of coordination, speech problems, or changes in personality.
Spread to the liver may result in jaundice, a yellowish discoloration of the skin. Itching, often severe, is another symptom that may occur with liver metastases.
Bone metastases often result in pain. These may also result in numbness and weakness of the legs when they occur in the spine.
To learn more about possible symptoms related to the spread of lung cancer, and how metastatic lung cancer may be treated, check out these articles:
Wednesday February 26, 2014
February 2014 marks National Cancer Prevention Month, and you may have heard tips for preventing cancer on TV, over the radio, and online. If I asked anyone what they would do to try and prevent lung cancer, I'm sure the answer would be "don't smoke."
While it's important to talk about smoking when it comes to lung cancer, I'd probably bore most of you with information you have already heard a thousand times or more. So I'll share tips here beyond smoking.
How important are these tips? Keep in mind that lung cancer in never smokers is the 6th leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
Lesser Known Tips for Preventing Lung Cancer
1. Check your home for radon. Exposure to radon in the home is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and the leading cause in non-smokers. Since radon is an odorless, colorless gas resulting from the natural decay of uranium in the soil beneath homes, the only way to know if you are at risk is to test your home. Radon kits are available at most hardware stores for less than $20.
2. Avoid secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is responsible for roughly 3,000 lung cancer deaths every year.
3. Take time to learn about chemicals you are exposed to at work as well as ways to protect yourself. It's estimated that 13 to 29% of lung cancers in men are related to occupational exposure to chemicals and other substances.
Early Detection of Lung Cancer
Until recently we didn't have a screening test for lung cancer. Unlike mammograms for early detection of breast cancer and colonoscopies for early detection of colon cancer, we were left to rely on recognizing symptoms alone to diagnose lung cancer. As such roughly 40% of people diagnosed already have stage 4 lung cancer.
Now, CT screening for lung cancer has been found to reduce lung cancer deaths by 20% when performed for people who meet certain criteria: Namely those between the ages of 55 and 75 who have smoked for at least 30 pack-years and continue to smoke or have quit smoking in the last 15 years.
Check out more tips on reducing your risk of cancer: