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Breathe easy in 2017

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Quit smoking and breathe better in the new year


COURTESY: ADVENTIST HEALTH - CT scans can be used to screen for lung cancer. Dr. Shaker esitmates that CT lung screenings could reduce lung caner mortality rates by as much as 20 percent.The beginning of the year is the perfect time to set a quit date if you smoke or use tobacco products. There are many health reasons to stop using tobacco. It can help reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and a number of other chronic conditions, including lung cancer.

Approximately 85 percent of all lung cancer cases are attributed to smoking. Quitting tobacco, as challenging as it may be, will significantly reduce your risk for lung cancer.

That's important, because lung and bronchus cancers are the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the state, killing an estimated 2,100 Oregonians in 2016. That's nearly twice as many deaths as colon and breast cancer combined.

"Lung cancer is a challenging cancer to treat as it's often discovered in its late stages, once it's already had a chance to spread to other organs," says Dr. K. Gem Shaker, a pulmonary specialist and co-medical director for the lung cancer screening program at Adventist Health Portland. "Thanks to advances in technology, we now have a way to screen for lung cancer and save lives."

Shaker and other pulmonologists at Adventist Health are using low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) to screen for lung cancer. This new technology makes it easier to detect suspicious spots in the lungs. That helps doctors catch lung cancer earlier so patients can begin treatment before the cancer spreads.

SHAKER"CT lung screenings hold the promise of reducing the lung cancer mortality rate by as much as 20 percent," says Shaker.

The screening itself is painless and takes a matter of seconds, and the entire appointment with the radiology team takes approximately 30 minutes and could save your life.

Experts recommend that people at risk for lung cancer have an annual CT lung screening. People 55-80 who currently smoke and have smoked a pack a day for 30 years should talk with their doctor about getting tested. The same is true for former smokers who have quit within the last 15 years.

National Radon Action Month

Beyond quitting smoking, Adventist Health also recommends testing for radon in the home, which can also lead to lung cancer. Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that is invisible, odorless and tasteless. Radon levels are also particularly high in the Pacific Northwest.

Exposure to radon accounts for 10 percent of lung cancer deaths. It's the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths, killing 20,000 people in the U.S. every year.

January is National Radon Action Month, when experts recommend that Oregonians living in the metro area test their homes for radon. Testing for radon should be done over a few days or even months during the fall and winter seasons, when the home is closed up and testing is more accurate.

A radon testing kit can be found at local hardware stores for $10-$30, or you can hire a professional company to come to your home and do the testing. Radon testing should be done in both old and new homes.

On top of the increased levels of radon in the Portland area, cold weather can make breathing more difficult. Respiratory irritation, or asthma, is common when temperatures drop. The shock of a cold air blast, whether it's taking a breath on a chilly morning or during a ski run, can cause breathing problems.

Breathe better this winter

There are a number of other ways to breathe better this winter:

  • Quit smoking. Tobacco smoke harms the lungs and airways.
  • Identify what triggers breathing problems and avoid places where an asthma flare-up could happen.
  • Avoid foods and beverages that cause acid reflux, which can aggravate asthma.
  • Purchase a humidifier to maintain the right level of moisture in the air.
  • Inhale through your nose, not your mouth. The nasal cavity regulates the temperature and moisture of the air we breathe in.
  • Keep your home free of mold and mildew.
  • Be aware that smoke from wood and pellet stoves could make you more susceptible to asthma.
  • When outdoors during extreme cold weather, wear a facemask or scarf to avoid the initial shock of cold air to your respiratory tract.
  • If your asthma is not under control, talk to your medical provider about medication. Exercising in cold weather or winter sports like skiing can aggravate asthma.
  • Radon Testing Seminar

    Dr. Scott Burns from Portland State University will talk about where radon comes from and why it's so prevalent throughout the Portland Metro Area. Additional presenters and exhibitors will provide information about how to test for radon, how to reduce the levels in your home (radon mitigation) and how to get tested for lung cancer.

    When: Jan. 18, 2017, 6:30 p.m.

    Where: Adventist Medical Center Amphitheater, 10123 S.E. Market St., Portland