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COPD and Lung Cancer Awareness Month Part 1: COPD

November is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Both diseases can affect anyone. However, smoking is the primary cause of each. Secondhand smoke is another cause for both diseases. This is why it is important for those who smoke to quit smoking, and to avoid environments where people are not exposed to secondhand smoke.

There will be a multi-post series this month to talk about each disease and one on what can be done about them. To start, let’s learn a little bit about COPD.

COPD is a chronic disease where the airways in your lungs become inflamed and thicken, and the tissue where oxygen is exchanged is destroyed. As a result, less oxygen gets into your body tissues, and it becomes harder to get rid of the waste gas carbon dioxide. As COPD gets worse, shortness of breath will make it harder to remain active.1


About 85-90% of all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. Other factors of COPD include:

  • Breathing in secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to air pollution
  • Working with chemicals, dust and fumes
  • A genetic condition call Alpha-1 deficiency
  • A history of childhood respiratory infection. 1

Symptoms include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds
  • Fatigue
  • Producing a lot of mucus
  • Wheezing5

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please talk with your medical provider. Early detection of COPD can help with your treatment.


COPD is the third leading cause of death in the US. Over 16.4 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD.1 Over 25,000 Alaskans have been diagnosed with COPD3. Chronic lower respiratory disease (which includes asthma, while COPD does not) was the 6th leading cause of death in Alaska in 2019.4


  1. Learn About COPD | American Lung Association
  2. COPD Causes and Risk Factors | American Lung Association
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System 2019, raw data analyzed by the American Lung Association Epidemiology and Statistics Unit.
  4. Alaska (
  5. COPD Symptoms and Diagnosis | American Lung Association
  6. Images: Social Media Resources | NHLBI, NIH

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