Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and the second most common cancer among both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In recognition of Lung Cancer Awareness Month this November, Dr. Benjamin Lee, chief of thoracic surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens, shares tips on how to prevent and detect lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
“Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke greatly increases a person’s risk for developing lung cancer,” said Dr. Lee, who is also assistant professor of clinical cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine. “If you are a smoker, you should consult with a healthcare provider about ways to quit. Everyone should know that there are also other risks that can cause lung cancer and respiratory diseases, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Eating the right foods and living a healthy lifestyle can help you lower the risk of contracting these diseases.”
The NewYork-Presbyterian Queens comprehensive lung team offers the following tips:
- Don’t smoke cigarettes. According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoking is the major cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Cigarette smoke can narrow the air passages and make breathing difficult, causing chronic inflammation, which can lead to chronic bronchitis. Over time, cigarette smoke destroys lung tissue and may trigger changes that grow into cancer. If you smoke, it’s never too late to talk to your doctor about quitting.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C. A recent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study shows that a higher intake of antioxidant- and flavonoid-rich fruits, like apples and tomatoes, was associated with a slower decline in lung function, especially among ex-smokers. Eating about four servings of fruit per day can help support the long-term health of your lungs.
- Prevent infection. Respiratory infections can become very serious quickly, but there are small habits you can incorporate into your life every day to protect yourself. Always wash your hands, brush your teeth twice a day, get a flu shot, and avoid crowds during cold and flu season.
- Practice breathing techniques. Over time, we lose the ability to inhale the maximum amount of oxygen we need for our health. Practice breathing exercises like abdominal breathing, which can help you maintain correct posture and take full breaths. For patients suffering from pulmonary fibrosis or COPD, pulmonary rehabilitation can serve as part of the treatment routine. This is a program that combines exercise, education, and support to help patients learn to breathe and function at the highest level possible. Talk with your doctor about breathing exercises that would work best for you.
- Stay stress-free. According to the Lung Institute, when patients suffer from a chronic lung disease like COPD or pulmonary fibrosis, their ability to navigate stressful situations is compromised due to difficulty breathing and the inability to take in large amounts of oxygen. If you suffer from chronic stress, try to learn the best tactic for you to lower your stress levels, like listening to calming classical music or meditating.
- Minimize time in highly polluted areas. Air pollution can negatively affect you and your family’s lung health. Check daily air pollution forecasts in your area for forecasts that inform you when the air is unhealthy in your community so that you can stay indoors.
- Exercise. According to Harvard Medical School, aerobic exercise can help improve lung capacity, meaning the amount of oxygen you take in with each breath. Try to include some resistance workouts in your regular routines, like walking uphill during your daily walk or using the interval setting when running on the treadmill.
- Visit your doctor as recommended. Regular checkups help you and your physician stay informed and updated on the state of your health. COPD and other lung diseases can often go undetected until it is too late, but seeing your doctor annually can help catch these diseases early and treat them effectively.