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Local Physician Advises Youth to Heed Message of Great American Smokeout

November 13, 2012

In the midst of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, this Thursday, Nov. 15 will be the 37th annual Great American Smokeout - a good reason to quit smoking for a day or, better yet, forever. That's the way Jason Chu, MD, a Fremont-based pulmonologist with Washington Township Medical Foundation and a member of the medical staff at Washington Hospital, sees it.

"An even better reason to quit is that lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., and smoking is the culprit about 90 percent of the time," he said. "Today, it seems that many more young people are taking up the habit. Besides encouraging people of all ages to quit, we need to give a better message about prevention that will motivate teens and young adults not to start smoking in the first place."

The American Cancer Society (ACS), sponsor of the Great American Smokeout, reports: "Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of diseases and premature death in the U.S., yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes."

For people who are already smoking, it's better to quit early, before respiratory symptoms appear, like a chronic cough, shortness of breath or bronchitis, Dr. Chu advised.

"Damaged lungs are more likely to repair themselves after you quit smokingwhen you are a teenager or in your 20s or 30s," he explained. "If you wait another decade or more until you are into your 40s, 50s or older, the damage may become irreparable. You may be able to halt the effects of smoking, but there is little chance of regaining the healthy lungs you had before you started. That's why it's important to get young people to quit smoking or never start in the first place."

But, even people in their middle years and older, will benefit from stopping the habit, Dr. Chuemphasized.

Besides having to counter the "glam" appeal of smoking and the peer pressure, messages that convince young people to quit smoking or never start are challenging because the "stay healthy" motivation doesn't workon most of them.

"The younger population is often left alone when it comes to messages about the importance of taking care of your health because we think of them - and they think of themselves - as being impervious and having the luxury of time," stated Dr. Chu. "It's too bad because getting them to stop will have the greatest positive effect on their health, and yet they are the ones who are missing when it comes to targeting people with quit-smoking messages."

He suggested developing anti-smoking campaigns that effectively convince young people to quit smoking or never start would be good projects for high school service learning programs.

"Kids are far more likely to listen to each other," Dr. Chu reasoned.

Difficult to diagnose

One difficulty in identifying people who have lung cancer is that there is no proven screening test for lung cancer. And, because diagnosing it is difficult and there are few symptoms in the early stages, lung cancer is often more advanced by the time it is found. And, this means treatment options tend to be fewer and not as effective.

If they are smokers or have a family history of lung cancer, teenagers and young adults - as well as all other smokers - should see their primary care physician if they are suffering from any of the following symptoms:persistent cough that doesn't improve with antibiotic therapy, changes in their voice or the consistency of their sputum, or other chronic symptoms of asthma, upper respiratory infection or bronchitis.With smokers, these problems should be looked at with more urgency.

"Smokers, including young people, may not want to tell others about their symptoms because they don't want to be lectured, or their family has been after them to quit," Dr. Chu commented. "They may be afraid of what they will hear if they tell their doctor. But, at that stage, the cancer may be more manageable."

Quitting is hard

Quitting smoking is very difficult. The ACS reports that, of the 45 million smokers in this country, more than half have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year. That's why never starting at all is a much better option.

The good news is that there are many methods for quitting, Dr. Chu pointed out. And, experience has shown that the earlier in their smoking years a person quits, the better chance they have of being successful. If you smoke and live with a smoker, it is important that you both quit at the same time.

"If two smokers live together, it's important that they support each other," recommended Dr. Chu. "It is very unlikely that one person will be successful when the other has not stopped. You both need to quit together."

To learn more about the Great American Smokeout, go to the web site for the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org. To learn more about Washington Township Medical Foundation, visit www.mywtmf.com. For information about Washington Hospital's Community Cancer Program, visit www.whhs.com.

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