A closer look at smoking and lung cancer among American Indians

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<i>Editors’ note: In this interview, Roberta Cahill, of the American Cancer Society, answers questions regarding smoking and lung cancer. Cahill is Yankton Sioux and lives in South Dakota. Her work focuses on cancer awareness to diverse populations.</i>

Charlotte Hoefer: What is the correlation between smoking and lung cancer?

Roberta Cahill: Overwhelmingly, smokers are most at risk of developing lung cancer. Smoking causes eight in 10 cases of lung cancer. So the best thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to quit smoking. And smokers aren’t the only ones at risk – secondhand smoke can increase a nonsmoker’s risk by up to 30 percent.

Hoefer: Is smoking prevalence higher among American Indians than in the general population?

Cahill: Smoking prevalence is much higher among American Indians than in the general population – with 33 percent of Native American adults who smoke, compared to 22 percent of Caucasians.

Hoefer: What is the American Indian survival rate from cancer?

Cahill: American Indians and Alaska Natives have the lowest survival rate – from all cancers combined – of any racial group. Cancer death rates vary from region to region among Natives. Mortality rates are higher for American Indians living in the northern Plains and Alaska than in the Southwest, due in part to the higher smoking prevalence in these areas.

Hoefer: What is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout?

Cahill: The Great American Smokeout is Nov. 16. It’s a day for smokers nationwide to unite and kick the deadly habit of smoking for a lifetime by starting with just one day. Thousands of people all over the country will choose to quit on that day.

Hoefer: Why is lung cancer so deadly?

Cahill: Lung cancer is so dangerous because it is so difficult to diagnose. Symptoms usually don’t present until the cancer has grown into a tumor large enough to be detected by an X-ray. Unfortunately, at this point, the cancer has frequently spread to other parts of the body – called metastasis. It often spreads in this way before it is found, and at that point it can be life-threatening.

Hoefer: What are the statistics on lung cancer?

Cahill: It’s the leading cause of cancer death for men and women in the U.S. The American Cancer Society predicts over 174,000 new cases of lung cancer this year, and over 162,000 deaths. If you break it down, on average, one in 13 men will develop lung cancer, and one in 17 women. Worse yet, six out of 10 individuals will die within one year of diagnosis.

Hoefer: If someone wants to quit smoking, where can they go for help?

Cahill: The American Cancer Society offers support for anyone who wants to quit. Call (800) 227-2345 or log on to www.cancer.org.

Hoefer: What’s the single most important thing a person can do to improve their overall health?

Cahill: The single most important
thing you can do to improve your long-term health and well-being is to quit smoking.

Hoefer: How is the American Cancer Society decreasing lung cancer rates?

Cahill: The American Cancer Society is committed to decreasing lung cancer incidence and mortality rates by focusing on five major goals: prevent youth from starting to smoke, encourage adults and youth to quit smoking, improve access to smoking cessation treatment and services, eliminate nonsmokers’ exposure to cigarette smoke and eliminate disparities in tobacco use and its effects.