By CINDY LADAGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Working in the dust and with diesel fumes, farmers need to keep up with the latest information about lung health. They also need to be aware, however, if they are smokers.
“Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the lung,” explained Dr. Stephen R. Hazelrigg, professor and chair of the Southern Illinois University Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery and director of the SIU Lung Center.
He attributes most cases of lung cancer to smoking, radon, asbestos and secondhand smoke, as well as a host of chemicals and working in contained spaces.
The highest risk may be the home environment. “The bottom line is much of the risk is family lifestyle,” he said, adding when parents smoke, their children often follow suit.
The question is, why do some people get sick and others do not? “Different people are susceptible to different things,” Hazelrigg explained. “Everyone’s lungs are a little different. Factors with smoking include how long and how heavy.”
If lung cancer is diagnosed and treated in the primary stage, patients have a 52.2 percent chance of survival, but that number drops to only 3.7 percent after it has metastasized. The American Lung Assoc. (ALA) reports 56 percent of cases are not diagnosed until after it has metastasized.
Lisa Thurstin, whose mother suffered from lung cancer, works at the ALA Minnesota office. “It’s important to remember that even though a person is affected by lung disease they can still live full and interesting lives. Managing lung disease is not impossible, just needs a little training and support. Mom was out in a canoe, boating and RVing with oxygen up until the summer she passed away,” Thurstin said.
Lung cancer treatment options have improved over time. “We have figured out ways to make smaller incisions thorascopically, making it less painful that it used to be,” Hazelrigg said.
When needed, chemotherapy and radiation accompany treatment for the late stages, 3 and 4.
Limit fumes exposure
Farmers working with diesel engines should limit exposure to diesel fumes. The ALA says “non-road” diesel engines and equipment include construction equipment such as excavators, mining equipment and agricultural machinery. In 2002, 155,000 tons, or half of all the fine particles directly emitted from diesels, came from non-road engines.
“Emissions from diesel engines have continuously improved in the past few years due to engine technology and regulatory efforts from U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). In addition, the changes to diesel fuel, such as the requirement for ultra-low sulfur and the addition of biodiesel, has gone a long way to improve air quality,” said Angela Tin, vice president of Environmental Health at the ALA of the Upper Midwest.
“There is, however, a need to continue this improvement in the non-road equipment sector, to achieve good lung health and reduce cancer among the agricultural community.”
Risks of smoking
Lung cancer is just one lung disease primarily caused by smoking; another is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. “Emphysema is a type of COPD and is related to smoking,” Hazelrigg said.
According to the ALA, COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States. COPD is often preventable and treatable. Steps to take, if diagnosed are first and foremost: Don’t smoke, or stop.
Lori Younker, director of Program Services for the ALA, added it has programs that can help. “The American Lung Association Lung HelpLine fills a critical gap in providing lung health information and guidance, and serves as a vital adjunct to medical care in today’s health care system,” she said.
“The HelpLine empowers people to better understand and seek treatment for their health issues such as lung cancer, find a health care provider, work effectively with their provider and make lifestyle changes to effectively manage a full range of serious diseases or to prevent diseases from occurring.” The number is 800-LUNG-USA (586-4872).
An American Heart Assoc. and U.S. Surgeon General article, “Smoke-Free Living: Benefits & Milestones,” claims health benefits begin within the first 20 minutes after quitting smoking. Both blood pressure and heart rate recover from the cigarette-induced spike. “After 12 hours of smoke-free living, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal,” it states.
“After two weeks to three months of smoke-free living, your circulation and lung function begin to improve. After 1-9 months of smoke-free living, clear and deeper breathing gradually returns, as coughing and shortness of breath diminishes; you regain the ability to cough productively instead of hacking, which cleans your lungs and reduce your risk of infection.
“One year after quitting smoking, a person’s risk of coronary heart disease is reduced by 50 percent. Five to 15 years after quitting smoking, a person’s risk of stroke is similar to that of a nonsmoker. After 10 years of smoke-free living, your lung cancer death rate is about half that of a person who has continued to smoke. The risk of other cancers, such as throat, mouth, esophagus, bladder, cervix and pancreas, decreases, too,” the article added.
Benefits are also reflected for those with emphysema; the earlier, the better. Hazelrigg stressed, “We are all losing lung volume over time. The earlier a patient quits smoking, the better because the older we are, the less able our lungs are to recover. The inflammation is resolved, but since emphysema is scarring of the lungs, the damage is done.”
Surgical options for emphysema are to remove part of the lung. “Our emphysema surgery is one of five centers approved to do this in the country,” he said. “We are leaders in that area.”
For information about the SIU screening program, call 217-545-7422.