November 28, 2011

Why We Need to Be Concerned About Lung Cancer

By Senator Lena C. Taylor 

My son has asthma. And when, I, like any other mother, occasionally hear him struggling to breathe, I grow concerned. These incidents usually occur during poor air quality days—pushing me to become increasingly aware of the importance and value in breathing clean air. As a legislator, I joined others in helping pass a smoke-free air law in the state that is already helping improve the air quality in buildings. And as an African American woman, I have a particular interest in lung cancer awareness. That’s because each year the majority of the 2,845 men and women who die from lung cancer in Wisconsin are African American. The same is true nationwide and especially evident each year in November during Lung Cancer Awareness month.

Now, no one is quite sure why African Americans are more prone to lung cancer, but thanks to research by the American Lung Association, we know it’s happening. African American men are 37 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than white men, many often don’t find out they have lung cancer until they are older and the cancer is more advanced and, unfortunately, African Americans often wait longer to get treatment after they’re diagnosed. Usually this group of individuals is more prone to refuse treatment or die in the hospital after surgery.

In light of this disturbing information, there needs to be a greater focus on finding out why this is happening, so we can start educating the public and launching prevention efforts. We need to support the American Lung Association, the Black Health Coalition and other like-minded groups to find solutions soon. On top of this, we need to encourage our families and neighbors to see their doctors regarding any sign of a lung problem.

One thing we do know about lung cancer is that the number one cause is smoking. Sure we’ve made a giant leap forward in going smoke-free across Wisconsin, but our state has continued to reduce smoking cessation program funding—funding I fight for every year that time and again ends up on the chopping block. This year, a Republican controlled legislature has forced tough cuts in Medicaid and Badgercare, shutting down additional opportunities for smoking cessation benefits and further reducing affordable healthcare opportunities in all of our communities. It’s just not fair, because if we want people to cut back on smoking, they need basic programs and help to get there. We can and must do better.

Surprisingly, the second leading cause of lung cancer is exposure to radon. Radon is the invisible gas found seeping up from ground basements in government-run housing, or in older homes like where I live in the Rufus King area. Putting a radon detector in your home can help prevent a problem and allow homeowners to have their living conditions vented appropriately. While you’re at it, it might not be a bad idea to install a carbon monoxide detector as well. These may seem like little things, but in the long-run they help protect our health.

These days it is up to all of us to make this a better place for our children. I pledge to you I will always do my best to support clean air, smoke-free and affordable healthcare initiatives at the State Capitol. But I urge each of you to also do your best in making your voices heard and remembering to take care of yourself and your loved ones here, at home in Milwaukee.