HOBART — Dr. Jason Frazier’s cousin loves to salt deep-dish pizza. When her doctor-cousin reminds her of the health risks, the woman replies, “I’m going to die from something.”
To which the doctor responds, “You don’t want that kind of death.”
A cardiothoracic surgeon, Frazier used that story to illustrate what steps people can take to prevent lung disease and Chronic Obstructive Lung Diseases. That includes diet, exercise, and no cigarette smoking or vaping.
“Our lungs are an air filter that can’t be changed, so we have to be careful what we put into them,” Frazier said. “I encourage you to do your own research. Lung cancer is not a death sentence, but it’s nice to know as early as we can.”
Frazier addressed the annual Shine a Light on COPD and Lung Disease program Monday at St. Mary Medical Center. In addition to testing, the program included physician presentations on lung cancer screenings, minimally invasive robotic surgery and the diagnosis, treatment and management of COPD-related illnesses.
COPD is an umbrella term for such lung issues as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. There is no cure for COPD, but self-management plans are in place.
Still, the statistics on COPD, particularly in Indiana, are less than encouraging. Nationally, COPD affects 5% of the general population. Killing 120,000 Americans annually, it is the fourth largest cause of death in the U.S.
Closer to home, the American Lung Association reports the rate of new lung cancer patients in Indiana has grown 73.2 percent, higher than the national average of 59.6 percent, ranking Indiana 44th.
In addition, the ALA places the Hoosier cigarette smoking rate at 21.8 percent, above the national average of 16.4 percent. That ranks Indiana 45th nationally.
Indiana also ranks 39th nationally with 17.22 percent of residents undergoing surgery as part of the first course of lung cancer treatment. The U.S. average is 20.6 percent.
“We must be careful about what we’re inhaling, especially in Indiana,” Frazier said.
Drs. Sharon Hariga and Bilal Safadi, pulmonologists and medical co-directors of the SMMC respiratory department, outlined COPD causes, symptoms, and treatment. The most common respiratory factor, Safadi said, is cigarette smoking, as 80 percent of COPD sufferers smoke.
Other factors, the doctor said, include hookah smoking, occupational and environmental exposure, and genetic factors. While there are no specific lab tests to determine COPD, Safadi said, other tests can be used to rule out other causes.
Harig said there is no “magic bullet” to cure COPD, but treatment is a collaborative effort.
“It takes a lot of effort and understanding,” Harig said, “and understanding of the disease.”
Treatment, Harig said, includes lifestyle changes, diet, exercise, and taking flu or pneumonia vaccines.
The afternoon program included a health fair with information on cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, medication, nutrition, and smoking cessation. Free screenings included spirometry, which tests air inhalation and exhalation, and pulse oximetry, to measure how much oxygen one’s blood is carrying.
One woman, who asked not to be identified, was diagnosed with COPD in February. Her symptoms include fatigue, coughing, and a regular hoarse cough.
“I feel very dizzy,” she added of her condition.