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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).


The Health Risks of Vaping

When e-cigarettes, also known as vapes, first came onto the market they were promoted as a healthy alternative to cigarettes — a way to kick the tobacco habit. Instead, vapes have become a preferred source of nicotine, especially among adolescents and teens.

Talk with any middle or high school student, and it's clear that vapes are popular on campuses across the nation. Many kids view vapes as harmless, believing them to consist solely of flavored water, while some adults see them as a healthy alternative to smoking. In reality, vaping is a serious risk to the health of your children.

The Danger

"The lungs are engineered to inhale air, not smoke or chemicals," says AltaMed’s Chief Health Correspondent and Medical Affairs Officer Ilan Shapiro, MD, FAAP, and FACHE.

The problem with vaping starts at its core function – the delivery of nicotine and chemicals into the throat and lungs. Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant drug and is “the main psychoactive ingredient in tobacco products” per The Alcohol and Drug Foundation. When used regularly, it can hurt the parts of our brain that control attention and learning. 

Aside from its addictiveness through nicotine, vaping also exposes users to harmful toxins including benzene (found in car exhaust) and diacetyl (a chemical tied to uncurable lung disease). What’s more, e-cigarettes have been found to deposit heavy metals like lead and nickel into our airways.

All of these risks can add up down the road. While more studies are needed to fully understand the lasting effects of vaping, research has shown an increased risk of lung scarring, organ damage, brain impairment, addiction, and even cancer.

The Youth Movement

According to the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), more than 2.5 million middle and high school students used vapes last year. Nearly half of high school students (46%) vape regularly — 20 or more times over the past 30 days — according to the survey. Slightly more than 30% vape daily.

These devices have evolved dramatically, designed to mimic highlighters, pens, and other common items. They even come in flavors that highly appeal to children. Cotton candy, bubblegum, and strawberry cheesecake are just a few scents enticing smokers as young as 12.

Vaping takes a toll on your body at any age, but the consequences for youth are especially dangerous. Due to their ongoing brain development, exposure to high doses of nicotine can rewire adolescents' brains, heightening the risk of addiction and use of other harmful substances. Studies show those who vape are four times more likely to later smoke cigarettes. Additionally, the harm from vaping goes beyond the lungs and brain, threatening the heart and cardiovascular system.

A Parent's Role

Parents continue to wield significant influence in shaping their children's choices. The following steps can help in safeguarding your teens:

  • Lead by example — Avoid tobacco products yourself and seek assistance if you're looking to quit.
  • Open dialogue — Foster open and honest conversations with your children, offering nonjudgmental listening and encouragement.
  • Consistency is key — Make these discussions a routine occurrence, as your child is likely to face continuous vaping temptations.
  • Equip yourself — Employing scare tactics rarely works; instead, empower yourself with accurate information from credible news sources.

Seeking Support

"We remain 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," Dr. Shapiro says.

If you or a loved one requires assistance in overcoming tobacco use or vaping, a lifeline is available through Kick It California. This program, available in multiple languages, extends free counseling and support services.

Remember that AltaMed is always here to support your family's health journey. From primary care and preventive screenings to dental services, see what we can do for you. Get started at 888-499-9303.

Keep Your Lungs Clear of Cancer