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Lung Cancer Awareness: Reduce Your Risk Today

Posted Date: 10/28/2014
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SI Advance
Take Care Article – November

Lung Cancer Awareness: Reduce Your Risk Today

Staten Islanders are diagnosed with lung cancer far more often than residents of any other borough—at rates of 20% above the statewide average according to the NY State Department of Health. Cigarette smoking is the primary risk factor for developing lung cancer, even exposure to second hand smoke increases the risk.

Nearly 87% of all lung cancers in the U.S. are smoking-related. Because our lungs draw in and utilize the air from outside of our body, anything that we breathe in can affect their health. "We as health care providers have to take the lead in educating the public to the dangers of smoking and the benefits of quitting,” states Dr. Keith Diaz, Board Certified in Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine at Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC).

Annual lung cancer screening is vital to lowering the risk of dying from this disease. Symptoms of lung cancer do not often appear until the disease is already in an advanced, non-curable stage. Even when symptoms of lung cancer do appear, many people may mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or long-term effects from smoking.

“By offering lung cancer screening to our community, we will be able to identify lung cancer at an earlier stage which will allow for better treatment and to potentially cure it,” states Dr. Diaz. The American Society of Clinical Oncologists suggests an annual screening for smokers and former smokers between the age of 55 to 74, having smoked for 30 years or more, and either continuing to smoke or having quit within the past 15 years.

RUMC is taking the lead on technological advances for early lung cancer screening. The Pulmonary & Critical Care unit is currently researching advanced equipment to aid in early detection. “It is called an electromagnetic navigational bronchoscopy,” explains Dr. Diaz. “Essentially, it will utilize CAT scan images to map out a three-dimensional road map of the airways, and then uses the technology to provide real-time turn by turn directions directly to a lesion that can be biopsied.  It basically provides a type of GPS for bronchoscopy and makes it possible to locate and biopsy small masses that were otherwise not accessible.”

Nurse navigators play a vital role in the lung cancer screening program. “We are here to offer a helping hand and give patients one-on-one support,” says Nancy Sayegh-Rooney, R.N., Pulmonary Nurse Navigator at RUMC.

The role of the nurse navigator at RUMC:

  • Provides guidance through the health care system
  • Ensures patient needs are met in a timely manner
  • Serves as the patient advocate


“We are a personal resource for patients and family, walking them through any necessary steps resulting in faster treatment and better outcomes,” says Nancy Sayegh-Rooney, R.N.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer
It’s important to report any unusual physical feelings to your doctor. Often, these unusual feelings can be attributed to other causes, such as bronchitis. But a doctor should check anything that is unusual or worrisome. The signs and symptoms of lung cancer can take years to develop and they may not appear until the disease is advanced.

Symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Coughing, especially if it persists or becomes intense
  • Pain in the chest, shoulder, or back unrelated to pain from coughing
  • A change in color or volume of sputum
  • Shortness of breath
  • Changes in the voice or being hoarse
  • Harsh sounds with each breath (stridor)
  • Recurrent lung problems, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Coughing up phlegm or mucus, especially if it is tinged with blood
  • Coughing up blood

What factors increase risk for developing lung cancer?
At this time, all of the causes of lung cancer are not well understood. However, doctors agree that certain factors increase a person's risk of developing this disease. These risk factors include:

  1. 1.Smoking. Smoking is the most important cause of lung cancer and one that a person can control. Research studies show that exposure to other people's cigarettes (second-hand smoke) also increases a person's risk of getting lung cancer.
  2. Radon gas. Exposure to radon, a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in an environment (soil or water).
  3. 3.Asbestos. People exposed to high levels of asbestos such as shipbuilders and pipefitters, have an increased risk of lung cancer.
  4. Personal and Family history. People who have had lung cancer are at increased risk of developing lung cancer again. People with a close relative who had lung cancer may also have an increased risk for the disease, even if they do not smoke.
  5. Other lung diseases. People with a history of certain other diseases of the lung, such as tuberculosis (TB), are at increased risk of developing lung cancer.
  6. Workplace exposures. Chemicals or substances that may be found at high levels in certain workplaces including arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, vinyl chloride, nickel compounds, chromium compounds, coal products, tars and soot, chloromethyl ethers and diesel exhaust.

How can I reduce my risk of cancer?

  • Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, quit. Contact RUMC for help. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke.
  • Have your home tested for radon, especially if you live in a high radon area. For more information visit:
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of medical imaging, such as CAT scans, with your health care provider to avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation.
  • Be aware of your family history and discuss any concerns with your health care provider.
  • Choose a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed meats.
  • Exercise regularly.

Cessation of smoking and eliminating exposure to tobacco smoke is the most important measure that can prevent lung cancer.
For more information on how to quit smoking and lung cancer screenings, contact Nancy Sayegh-Rooney, R.N., Pulmonary Nurse Navigator at RUMC, 718-818-2391. Free screenings are available for at-risk individuals, please call for additional information.