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Keep Your Lungs Clear of Cancer

Of all the cancers a person can get, lung cancer is the third most common behind skin cancer and prostate cancer for men, and breast cancer for women. However more people die of lung cancer than any other cancer according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death, accounting for almost 25% of all deaths. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about a quarter million new cases of lung cancer in 2022. Additionally, more than 130,000 people in the United States will die of lung cancer this year.

Thankfully, new cases have been on the decline along with the number of lung cancer deaths thanks in large part to the drop in smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and the leading cause of death by lung cancer.

Smoker Woman

Who Is at Risk?

Lung cancer mainly occurs in older people. Most people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older; a very small number of people diagnosed are younger than 45. The average age of people when diagnosed is about 70.

Smokers of cigarettes, cigars, and pipes are at the highest risk of developing lung cancer. Next are people who have been exposed to chemicals like radon, asbestos, diesel exhaust, and other workplace chemicals.

When we say, “higher risk,” we mean people who may be vulnerable due to some combination of lifestyle or family history. However, having several risk factors does not automatically mean someone will get the disease. Also, sometimes people with no risk factors can get a disease, as well. That’s why it’s so important to work with your doctor and get regular screenings.

Ways to Protect Yourself

Lung cancer has been called one of the most preventable cancers because 80% to 90% of cases are related to smoking. So, to reduce risk:

  1. Quit smoking or never start — There are no safe cigarettes and preliminary research shows vaping and e-cigarettes are just as bad if not worse.
  2. Avoid secondhand smoke — Stay away from smokers. Breathing in their smoke isn’t good for you.
  3. Test your home for radon — This naturally occurring gas from dirt and rocks can get trapped in buildings. Tests are available at home improvement stores and the California Department of Public Health makes free radon testing kits available.
  4. Get tested if you’re at risk — If you smoked, have a history of lung cancer in your family, or worked around industrial chemicals, talk to your doctor about the risks. Early detection can be lifesaving. 
  5. Eat a well-balanced diet — A healthy diet that’s low in sugars and fats but high in whole grain, lean protein, and fresh produce can also reduce your risks for heart disease, diabetes, a variety of other cancers, and so much more.

Breathe Easier

It helps to have a good relationship with your health care provider. We can connect you with a doctor who is focused on you and can provide you a lifetime of care, including the proper screenings to check for diseases like lung cancer. Depending on your personal and family health histories, your doctor may recommend additional screenings.

Contact AltaMed for more information about the health screenings you need at (888) 499-9303.

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Breaking Cigarette Stop Smoking

It’s Never Too Late to Stop Smoking

Most people know that smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body. Still, quitting is really hard for anyone who has been smoking for a long time. The nicotine in tobacco is a drug and, like many drugs, it is addictive.

However, quitting is the best thing you can do for yourself, no matter how old you are. It’s always a good time to stop smoking.

Man with Cloud of Smoke on the Face

Ending Decades of Damage

It seems the older someone is, the less likely they are to try to stop smoking. Not only is it a difficult addiction to manage, some people have the mindset that if the damage has been done, why bother quitting?

For one thing, you will live longer.

More than 160,000 people over the age of 70 completed a questionnaire about their smoking habits as part of a diet and health study from the National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health.

Those surveyed who didn’t smoke lived longer than those who did. However, those who had quit at some point, still lived longer than those who continued to smoke.

The longer they had gone without smoking as much as doubled their chances of living longer than someone who smoked.

Long-Term Hazards

Smoking dramatically increases your risk for many serious diseases, and it’s responsible for one in five deaths in the U.S. each year. It leads to:

  • Lung disease — Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two conditions that make it hard to breathe.
  • Heart disease — Smoking increases the chance of heart attack or stroke.
  • Cancer — Smoking not only leads to lung cancer, it can also cause cancer of the bladder, cervix, esophagus, kidneys, larynx, liver, mouth, and pancreas.
  • Respiratory problems — Smoking makes it harder to recover from COVID-19 and leaves you more susceptible to the flu, pneumonia, and other respiratory infections.
  • Osteoporosis — Smoking limits your body’s ability to absorb calcium which could lead to weaker bones.
  • Eye disease Smoking can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, an eye diseases that causes vision loss, and even blindness.
  • DiabetesSmoking increases the chance of developing type 2 diabetes and, if you already have diabetes, smoking makes it more difficult to manage. Poorly managed diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, and amputations.

Besides these very serious conditions, smoking can contribute to sagging skin – not only on your face but all over your body, age spots, stains and damage to your teeth, and accelerated hair loss.

Senior Adult Woman at Doctors Office

Immediate Benefits

Stubbing out your last cigarette yields results almost immediately and the benefits add up the longer you remain tobacco free.

  • 20 minutes later — Heart rate returns to normal
  • 12 to 24 hours later — Carbon monoxide level in blood returns to normal. Heart attack risk drops.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months later — Heart attack risk dramatically drops. Lung function starts to improve.
  • 1 to 9 months later — Decrease in coughing and shortness of breath.
  • 1 year later — Coronary heart disease risk drops up to 50%.
  • 5 to 15 years later — Stroke risk reduced to that of someone who hasn’t smoked. Risk of mouth, throat, and esophagus cancer is half that of someone who still smokes.
  • 10 years later —Risk decreases for cancer of cervix, larynx, kidney, or pancreas. Risk of dying from lung cancer or getting bladder cancer is half of those who still smoke.
  • 15 years later — Risk of coronary heart disease is the same as someone who doesn’t smoke.
Male Hand Destroying Cigarettes

Don’t Give Up

One major hurdle to quitting is going through withdrawals: symptoms include restlessness, irritability, anxiousness, or tension. It might be hard to sleep or you may feel drowsy during the day. Even though withdrawal symptoms can be severe, they usually pass within two weeks.

As much as possible, avoid the situations or triggers that made you want to smoke, such as feeling stressed out or drinking alcohol or coffee.

To help deal with cravings, recommends the following:

  • Drink water — Six to eight glasses a day
  • Deep breaths — Take a few of these when you feel like smoking
  • Delay smoking — The urge usually lasts a few minutes so meditate to resist the immediate urge
  • Distract yourself — Suggestions include:
    • Read
    • Change your routine
    • Try substitutes like carrots, sugarless gum, or breath mints
    • Exercise
    • Call a friend

Our Doctors Can Help

For many people, willpower alone is not enough. Your doctor can prescribe medications, offer advice, and provide support as you work to kick the smoking habit.

If you’re a caregiver or a senior who wants to stop smoking, or just live a healthier life, AltaMed offers coordinated care and services, including medical treatment, physical therapy, and social services.

For more information about services or eligibility, visit or call (855) 252- (7223).

Teenager vaping

Vaping is Everywhere and the Risks are Real

October 20 kicks off Respiratory Care Week, and to recognize the importance of strong, healthy lungs, we’d like to shed some light on what’s becoming a huge threat to the health of teens and adults alike. In recent years, e-cigarettes, also known as vapes or vape pens, have grown more popular. Vapes were originally designed and marketed as a nicotine-delivery tool to help adult cigarette smokers break the habit, but with sleek, high-tech looking packaging and flavors like cotton candy, bubblegum, and strawberry cheesecake, kids as young as 12 have been seeking them out – and getting hooked.

Ask almost any middle-school or high-school kid: vapes are all too common on campus, filling up bathrooms with flavored smoke. Kids believe vapes are only flavor and water, and many adults are unconcerned, thinking, “At least it’s safer than smoking.” Indeed, many of the products are advertised as a safer alternative to cigarettes, but they’re anything but harmless.

Vapes Can Cause Serious or Fatal Lung Disease

Radiography of Lung Cancer

“The lungs are designed to use air: not smoke or chemicals,” says Dr. Ilan Shapiro, an AltaMed pediatrician. This is the reason why we’ve recently been seeing news stories about serious lung conditions that were linked to vaping. Just in the past few months, mysterious vape-induced lung diseases killed six and more than 300 individuals got sick, with many of those people ending up in the hospital.

Even with the nation’s top doctors, scientists, and research centers working together to find an answer, the unfortunate truth is that no one is 100% sure of what is causing the illness.

Another reason why vaping is dangerous is that the product has not been around that long. There hasn’t been enough time to do meaningful, long-term research on its effects, and the products themselves still are not strongly regulated. In fact, consumers can’t even be certain that vape products are labeled correctly. For example, one study found that even vape juice pods that were supposed to be nicotine-free contained some amount of nicotine.

Vaping Has Been Called a Youth Epidemic

Vaping is bad for everyone, but vaping’s effects hit kids and teens harder, for several reasons.

Because children’s brains are still developing, early exposure to potent doses of nicotine can rewire their brains, leaving them even more likely to become addicted and engage in other risky substances. Research indicates that kids who vape are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes (compared to kids who don’t vape) – and many of those kids start smoking within six months of their first hit off a vape pen.

In addition to harming the lungs and the brain, vaping is just as bad for the heart and cardiovascular systems as regular cigarettes are.

If You’re a Parent, Here’s How to Keep Your Kids Safe

Mom Talking to Her Teenager Daughter

Even if all of your child’s friends are vaping, don’t underestimate the power you have to make a difference. Here’s what you can do to help make sure your teens don’t start vaping:

  • Set a good example. Don’t use tobacco products yourself. If you do, get help to quit.
  • Have an open and honest conversation. Don’t be judgmental: listen and encourage your child to tell you what they’re going through.
  • Make these conversations a habit. Your child may be repeatedly be faced with the temptation to vape, so try to have these conversations often.
  • Arm yourself with the facts. As a rule, scare tactics won’t dissuade your child. Educate yourself with scientific evidence and stories from trusted news sources.

Get Help to Break the Smoking or Vaping Habit

Woman Holding a Vaper and a Cellphone

“Today we are extremely worried that young healthy adults are dying, related to their use of vaping products, and we need to avoid these chemicals and products to safeguard our community,” said Dr. Shapiro.

If you or a loved one needs help to quit tobacco use or vaping, call the California Smokers’ Helpline at 1-800-NO BUTTS or visit Available in multiple languages, the program offers free counseling and support services.

For any other health concerns or questions, call AltaMed at 888-499-9303. We’re here to support you and your family’s healthy lifestyle, with primary care, specialty care, and preventive screenings and checkups.

Keep Your Lungs Clear of Cancer