Know Your Health

 Knowing your body

 Knowing what is normal for you and your body is important. If you know what’s normal for you, it’ll be easier to notice when something is different. If you notice any unexplained or persistent change, it’s important to get it checked out by your doctor.

Quite often when people notice something different about themselves, they don’t think much of it. This often happens as people get older, because they expect their bodies to start behaving differently. But don’t be tempted to put something unusual down to ‘getting older’ before you’ve seen a doctor – let them know what you’ve noticed, even if you’re not concerned by it. Chances are it is nothing to worry about, but it’s better to be safe.

If it is something serious, finding it early and getting treatment started can make a real difference.


Signs of lung cancer


There are many signs of lung cancer, but they usually include:

  • a cough that persists for two or three weeks, or worsening or changing of a long-standing cough
  • repeated chest infections
  • coughing up blood
  • unexplained persistent breathlessness, tiredness or lack of energy
  • weight loss; or
  • persistent chest or shoulder pain.

Recognition of these symptoms is particularly important if you smoke or have ever smoked as you are more likely to suffer from throat and lung diseases. If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP immediately. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got lung cancer, but it’s best to get it checked out. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the better the chance of treatment being successful.


Why is early diagnosis important?


Thousands of people beat cancer every year.

Doing so is easier when cancer is diagnosed at an early stage as treatment is often simpler and more likely to be effective. So finding cancer early can make a real difference.

Sometimes, people put off seeing their doctor because they’re worried about what the doctor might find.  But it’s important to bear in mind that advances in the way cancer is diagnosed and treated have led to real improvements over the years.

Even for those cancers where survival overall is poor, the chances of surviving are better the earlier the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed.

So if you notice anything unusual about your body, or have one of the warning signs or symptoms, it’s really important to talk to your doctor about it.

It may not be anything to worry about, in which case you’ll have nothing to lose.

But if it’s something serious, you could have everything to gain.


What happens once you get to your doctor?


There are many methods of testing for lung cancer. Remember that each patient is treated as an individual and therefore your doctor will only choose the most appropriate tests for you. You may have a chest x-ray and/or a CT scan:


Chest x-ray

A simple x-ray of the chest can sometimes show abnormalities such as inflammation, infection, scarring or growths.


CT (computed tomography) scan

A CT scan gives a 3D picture of your organs. A scan can help to determine whether the cancer has spread to other organs and if it is affecting any of the lymphatic nodes (glands) or blood vessels.

Sometimes an injection or drink (gastrografin) is given to highlight some of the organs in the gut. The scan is painless but you might feel slightly ‘boxed in’ as it rotates around your body.


Smoking and lung cancer


By far the most common cause of lung cancer is smoking. About nine in 10 cases of lung cancer are directly because of tobacco.

But around one in 10 cases are in people who have never smoked. Anyone can develop lung cancer, so it is very important that if you have any signs and symptoms associated with your chest that you get them checked out.

It is always worth giving up smoking no matter how long you have smoked. You will reduce your risk of developing lung cancer and other serious diseases, or increase your chance of responding to treatment for lung cancer.

If you need help to give up smoking, you can always speak to your GP, a nurse in a hospital or medical centre, or your pharmacist. You can also call the free call phone number Quitline on 0800 788 788.


Smoking and cancer: Reasons to quit


There are lots of good reasons to quit. Everyone's motivations to stop will be different. Here are a few ideas to get you started.


Improve your health, whatever your age


Giving up smoking at any age will increase your life expectancy, provided you stop before you develop cancer or another serious disease. The sooner you give up smoking the better.  After:


  • 20 minutes - your blood pressure and pulse return to normal
  • eight hours - nicotine, carbon monoxide and oxygen levels in your blood begin to return to normal
  • two days - your lungs start to clear and your sense of taste and smell begin to return
  • three days - breathing is easier and your energy levels increase
  • 2-12 weeks - circulation improves and excerise gets easier
  • 3-9 months - breathing problems, coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing improve
  • five years - risk of having a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker
  • 10 years - risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.  You have the same risk of a heart attack as someone who has never smoked.

Save yourself thousands of dollars

Smoking is very expensive. At today's rates, smoking around twenty cigarettes a day for the next 20 years would cost you over $80,000.  Write down how much you spend on cigarettes every day for a week. Then work out how much your smoking costs you every year. Think what else you could do with the money.

 Look after those around you


If you smoke, you may be exposing your friends, partner or children to your smoke and endangering their health. Smoking may reduce your fertility and your chances of having a baby.

And of course, smoking around your children (or during pregnancy) can harm their health. If children are exposed to tobacco smoke, they have a higher risk of breathing difficulties and cot death - the sudden and unexpected death of young babies.


Stop the stress and the guilt


More and more buildings are now non-smoking so finding a place to smoke can be quite stressful. How many times have you felt anxious because you didn’t know when you were going to get your next cigarette? Think how nice it would be not to get stressed about where you can go to smoke.

Smokers often feel guilty. You may be trying to hide your smoking from your partner or children. Have you seen people looking at you disapprovingly when you smoke in public? Sometimes feeling guilty about smoking means that you don't enjoy cigarettes as much as you could. Giving up could make you feel more in control and better about yourself.


Look younger and more attractive


Smoking ages your skin. It also makes you smell of smoke and stains your fingers and teeth. And in the long term, smoking could damage your circulation leading to gangrene and even amputation. So give up now before it’s too late.


Smoking and cancer: giving up


Giving up is the best thing a smoker can do to improve their health. Quitting greatly reduces the risk of smoking-related cancers. The earlier you do it, the better. But equally it is never too late to gain valuable years of life by giving up on smoking.

Most smokers say that they would like to give up if they could. But for some, stopping isn't simple.


Know yourself


Before you give up make sure you know why you want to stop. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I smoke?
  • Why do I want to stop smoking?
  • Is this the right time to stop smoking?
  • When am I most likely to give in to cravings?
  • What can I do to overcome these cravings?
  • Who can support me whilst I'm giving up?
  • How can I reward myself for giving up?
  • When would be a good quit date?

Support yourself

Quitting smoking can be hard, but free services and treatments are available to help and these have been shown to improve the chances of quitting successfully. Smokers are four times more likely to quit successfully if they get professional support than if they try to go "cold-turkey".

Quitline (0800 778 778) is a great tool for quitting smoking. The Quitline offers free telephone support, resources and low cost nicotine patches, gum and lozenges to New Zealanders.


Control your withdrawal symptoms


When you try to quit, you may experience nicotine cravings and research has shown that these are often more severe than you expect. Don't let that put you off though - there are several products on the market to help control withdrawal symptoms. Many are free on prescription from your GP.


Nicotine replacement therapy


Can help you by reducing your nicotine cravings. NRT has been shown to double your chances of successfully quitting. It is also less addictive than smoking and doesn't cause cancer. NRT is available on prescription or over the counter as gum, patches, lozenges, or inhalers. You usually take a 10-12 week course.


Putting on weight


Many people are worried that when they give up smoking they may put on weight. This may be because:


  • Nicotine suppresses your appetite and makes your body burn calories faster.
  • Smoking affects your taste and smell, so food may be much tastier when you quit.
  • Some people replace cigarettes with snacks and sweets when they give up.

If you’re worried about putting on weight:

Staying smokefree


Giving up smoking is hard work and it may take some people several attempts to quit for good.

Remember that nicotine is very addictive and watch out for situations where you might be tempted to have 'just one cigarette'.

If you do start smoking again, think about where you went wrong and try to learn from your experiences for next time. Phone Quitline to help you get back on track.