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National COPD and Lung Cancer Awareness Month (November)

November serves as National COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and Lung Cancer awareness month. Often when we think of smoking, we immediately consider increased risks for Lung Cancer. A less talked about disease process related to smoking is COPD. COPD is a phrase used to include many progressive lung diseases, such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, non-reversible asthma and some forms of bronchiectasis.

The most common symptoms of COPD are breathlessness (or a "need for air"), abnormal sputum (a mix of saliva and mucus in the airway), and a chronic cough. Daily activities, such as walking up a short flight of stairs or carrying a suitcase, can become very difficult as the condition gradually worsens. Many people mistake their increased breathlessness and coughing as a normal part of aging.

Main risk factors for COPD

  • Tobacco smoking, including second hand and passive
  • Indoor air pollution (such as biomass fuel used for cooking and heating)
  • Outdoor air pollution
  • Occupational dusts and chemicals (vapors, irritants, and fumes)

A few important facts about COPD

  • 12 million adults have COPD and another 12 million are undiagnosed or developing COPD
  • 70% of all Americans with COPD are younger than 65 years of age
  • COPD kills more women than men
  • Most people are not diagnosed until they have already lost half of their lung function
  • COPD is often misdiagnosed as asthma, leading to inappropriate treatment and less optimal outcomes
  • COPD rarely occurs alone: heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and depression are common comorbid diseases
  • There is no cure, but treatments are available to help people live with their COPD

Information in this newsletter was obtained from the COPD Foundation and the World Health Organization.