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Do you smoke? The risk is not just to your lungs.

Kentucky has long been known as a tobacco state. But the economic benefits of tobacco are far outweighed by the cost on human lives and health. In Kentucky, almost 30% of high school-aged youth use some sort of tobacco product, including nicotine-laced e-cigarettes. An estimated 8,900 adults die each year in Kentucky from tobacco-related illnesses—and many of them started smoking as teenagers.

Lung cancer is one of the primary dangers of smoking. In Kentucky, the rate of new cancer cases each year is 89 per 100,000 people – compared to 58 nationally. That means Kentucky has the second highest rate of lung cancer in the nation; and we have the highest rate of cancer deaths. There is some good news, though – Kentucky leads the nation in lung cancer screening. This is vitally important because lung cancer can be treated successfully when caught early.

Even if you’ve quit, cancer can appear. With no symptoms until the advanced stage‚ early detection may save your life. If you are a current smoker or you quit within the last 15 years, you may be eligible for a free lung cancer screening using low-dose CT. Lung cancer screenings are available at Western Kentucky Diagnostic Imaging, a department of The Medical Center at Bowling Green, and The Medical Centers at Albany, Caverna, Franklin and Scottsville. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you might be eligible. To learn more about the screening, visit MedCenterHealth.org/lung.

More than lung damage

What most people don’t realize is that smoking doesn’t just affect your lungs – it affects your entire cardiovascular system, from narrowing of the arteries and the formation of clots in the bloodstream, to erectile dysfunction. All of these things can be traced directly back to smoking.

“Smoking can permanently damage your heart and blood vessels,” says Magendran Danapal, M.D., Vascular Surgeon with Med Center Health Heart, Lung & Vascular Surgeons. “In addition, people who are exposed to cigarette smoke, even if they don’t smoke, can have a 25-30% higher risk of coronary heart disease than those who are not exposed.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking can lead to the following diseases:

  • Atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries”
  • Coronary Heart Disease, which can cause clots and sudden death from a heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), a narrowing of blood vessels that reduces the flow of blood to arms, legs, hands and feet
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm – a bulge or weakened area in the main artery that carries blood throughout the body. A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is life-threatening and almost all deaths from abdominal aortic aneurysms are caused by smoking

So you want to quit, now what?

Many resources are available for people who want to quit smoking. Med Center Health’s Health & Wellness department periodically hosts Freedom from Smoking, a multi-week American Lung Association program that focuses on how to quit smoking vs. why to quit smoking. To learn when the next series starts, contact Health & Wellness at 270-745-0942.

Other resources include www.smokefree.gov, www.cdc.gov/tips and 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Most of all, talk with your doctor to get the guidance and support you need to kick the habit for good. If you need a primary care physician to help you quit smoking or to order a low-dose lung cancer screening for you, Med Center Health offers clinics throughout Southcentral Kentucky. Visit MedCenterHealth.org to find a clinic near you.