Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lung Cancer Awareness

November has been designated as Lung Cancer Awareness Month by the Lung Cancer Alliance. The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be over 226,000 new cases of lung cancer, and over 160,000 deaths from lung cancer, within the year 2012 alone. Clearly this is a disease that we need to know more about and become more active in combating.

Lung cancer specifically forms on the lung tissue and cells lining the air passageways, and there are actually two types - small and non-small cell - based upon how the cells appear under a microscope. The Lung Cancer Organization has a link to a documentary that provides more in-depth information about the disease. One thing that is important to remember is that, while smoking cigarettes is definitely a risk factor for lung cancer, there are many other risk factors that individuals should be alert for, such as

  • exposure to asbestos, radon, or other industrial substances
  • radiation exposure
  • air pollution
  • tuberculosis, and
  • genetic predisposure
Some of the symptoms that individuals experiencing lung cancer may exhibit are
  • coughing (especially persistent and/or intense coughing)
  • pain in the chest, should, or back unrelated to pain caused by coughing
  • changes in color or volume of sputum
  • shortness of breath
  • changes in voice or a hoarse voice
  • harsh sounds with each breath
  • recurrent lung problems (bronchitis or pneumonia)
  • coughing up phlegm
Additionally, individuals may experience symptoms in other parts of their bodies
  • loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • muscle wasting
  • fatigue
  • headaches, bone or joint pain
  • unexplained bone fractures
  • neurological symptoms
  • neck and/or facial swelling
  • general weakness
  • bleeding
  • blood clots (
While some types of lung cancer, such as that caused by genetic factors, are hard to circumvent, there are some things that individuals can do that will help lessen their risk of contracting lung cancer. Stopping smoking and/or reducing exposure to environmental factors that are known to increase risk is your best bet. Additionally, if you or someone you love feels that they may be at risk, you can talk to your doctor about screening techniques that can help identify problems more quickly.

Monday, November 26, 2012

TWU's Student Health Services will be observing World AIDS day on November 27th, in the Student Union Purple Lounge from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. with an awareness event. The Red Ribbon Fashion Show will begin at 12:30. Come join in!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wishing everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday from the TWU Health Studies department! What are you thankful for this year?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

37th Annual Great American Smokeout!

Today marks the 37th Great American Smokeout, the day every year that smokers are encouraged to commit to quitting, or actually quit, smoking.  The American Cancer Organization states, "Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S."; however, almost 44 million Americans are still smoking. While cancer is probably the most widely known disease that is connected to smoking, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that smoking is also estimated to increase the risk of contracting various diseases. For example, it can increase the risk of

  • coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times,
  • stroke by 2 to 4 times,
  • men developing lung cancer by 23 times,
  • women developing lung cancer by 13 times, and 
  • dying from chronic obstructive lung diseases (such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema) by 12 to 13 times (CDC Fact Sheet).
Smoking may also cause cancer in parts of the body other than the lungs, and there are reproductive and early childhood effects - such as infertility, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome - that are linked to smoking. So, stopping now - or not starting! - is one of the best health choices that you can make for yourself.

In addition to significantly impacting an individual's health, tobacco also has a drastic affect on individual's - and society's - wallets! This helpful infographic shows the true cash impact of tobacco on healthcare costs, productivity, and other aspects of daily life: Tobacco - The True Cost of Smoking.

Once started, smoking can be a very difficult habit to quit! The American Cancer Society realizes this, so the home page for the Great American Smokeout has a variety of helpful information, including steps you can take to quit, a guide to quitting, a list of the numerous health benefits to be gained from quitting, and desktop helpers to provide you with motivation: The Great American Smokeout. I encourage you to make a healthy decision for yourself today and "be a quitter"!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Repost - Guest Post: The State of Health of Student Veterans

This guest post originally appeared on our blog in July. However, the topic is so appropriate for Veterans Day that we decided to repost!

As a health educator at an urban institution of higher education that currently serves approximately 350 GI Bill benefit students, I have recognized a need for those of us working in college health to better understand our student veterans. I am also a U.S. Army veteran that served a tour of duty in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. When I attended university during the mid-to-late 1990's, there were no campus veteran support services available, nor was there a student veteran organization. The transition for me was difficult and involved a lot of self medication. I, as many servicemembers before and after me, was trained to take care of myself and my buddies - to show weakness in any way is not what a soldier does. The world has evolved since - the reduced stigma of mental health and the many support organizations that are available to meet the needs of all veterans is amazing. However, we still have a long way to go to completely eliminate the stigma of mental illness in the military.

Military servicemembers and veterans are attending college in record numbers. In part, this is the result of the implementation of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The Post 9/11 GI Bill is a robust education benefit that makes the pursuit of a degree in higher education available to our nation's next Greatest Generation at virtually no cost to them. The number of student veterans is expected to continue to increase as more servicemembers transition out of the military. Many of these veterans are first generation students who also require additional support to successfully navigate the hurdles of pursuing a degree in higher education. This is not to say that institutions of higher education must create new programs to support student veterans, but they must evaluate and enhance existing services to meet the specific needs that student veterans bring to campus.

Student veterans often are not comparable to traditional students in their motivation to achieve higher education. Many look at this as their next mission that they must complete. They are often older than traditional students and have a more global life experience. Many have families they must support that necessitate the need for them to work a full-time job while they are also a full time student. Most have served in an area of hazardous duty where their life, or the lives of their comrades, has been threatened or tragically lost. The impacts of combat are not always visible and may not manifest themselves immediately. The transition from military to civilian and from boots to books may be a significant challenge for many student veterans. The visible wounds of war are easy to recognize, treat and accommodate. It is the invisible wounds of war - post traumatic stress (PTS), anxiety, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), or military sexual trauma (MST) to name a few - that present a challenge not only for the veteran, but also for those around them - family, other students, faculty and staff.

As professionals in college health, we are in a position to gain a better understanding of what the impacts of not only combat but also military service in general may have on student veterans. How do we accomplish this? By doing what we do best. Assess, assess, assess. Again this does not mean that we have to create new assessment tools, but rather that we augment existing tools in order to pull out veteran specific data. This is what was done by the Missouri Partners In Prevention (PIP) in 2009. Each spring PIP conducts the Missouri College Health Behavior Survey (MCHBS) on 17 campuses both public and private. This survey looks specifically at college students behaviors around alcohol and drugs, mental health, gambling, sexual assault, suicide, distracted driving, etc. In 2009, the MCHBS was augmented with approximately 40 veteran specific questions related to PTS, MST, TBI, engagement, alcohol and drug behaviors, and suicidality. Participants who indicated military service were directed to these additional questions in addition to the general MCHBS survey. In 2011, PIP received an additional SAMHSA grant to develop a stand alone Veterans Behavior Survey that will be piloted in fall 2012  by PIP schools who choose to participate.

The American College Health Association (ACHA) - National College Health Assessment (NCHA) began asking veteran status  in 2011. Campuses that participate in the ACHA-NCHA now have a mechanism to reference veteran responses to this comprehensive college health assessment tool.  ACHA also has a Coalition for the Wellness Needs of Military Veteran Students.The Coalition is open to all members of ACHA who are interested in working with, advocating for, and supporting veterans in higher education.
The challenge now for campuses is to move beyond being veteran friendly to being genuinely veteran supportive. This can only happen when higher education professionals gain an understanding of student veterans and work to positively support and impact their lives. After all they have given of themselves to support and defend our freedoms; it is now up to us to support and advocate for them so that they may be successful college students.

This post contributed by Bill Smith.

Bill Smith currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri and is the Health Educator with Student Health & Wellness at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC). He holds a Bachelors of Social Work from Washburn University (2000) and a Master of Science in Management from Baker University (2003).

He has worked in college health for nearly twelve years with a special emphasis on sexual health, alcohol and other drug use, and stress management. Prior experience includes six and a half years as a health educator at the University of Kansas and ­five years working in a community mental health center and with a community based HIV/AIDS service organization in Topeka, Kansas.

Bill has been asked to speak on the topic of student Veterans success by various organizations including:
  • The National Science Foundation
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  • Missouri Partners In Prevention
  • Metropolitan Community College – Longview Campus
  • The Community College of Philadelphia
  • The Illinois Higher Education Center
  • Region 10 Association of College Unions International

He is a former soldier having served in the Army both on active duty and in the reserves. You can reach Bill at

Thursday, November 8, 2012

November is American Diabetes Month

November is American Diabetes Month, which I find interesting coming so closely behind Halloween and all it's sugary excess, but that's another story (see Sweets for the Sweet!). The American Diabetes Association reports that "nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes". Additionally, "another 79 million Americans have prediabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes," and the "national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $174 billion" - a staggering figure. The problem is becoming critical, since "recent estimates project that as many as 1 in 3 American adults will have diabetes in 2050" unless steps are taken to make some significant changes (

Coverage of our nation's obsession with sugar is commonplace, so it is likely that most of us are aware of the connection between excess sugar and diabetes. At it's most basic, diabetes can be described as an inability of your body to efficiently process glucose (sugar). The end result is that excess sugar builds up in the bloodstream leading to potential health complications such as

While excess sugar is definitely a contributor to this disease, there are actually many reasons for why people contract diabetes, and there are also different types of diabetes

  • Type 1 diabetes - An individual's immune system begins attacking insulin-producing cells in the pancreas depleting the insulin in their system and allowing sugar to build up in the bloodstream. This type of diabetes is typically genetic, or inherited.
  • Type 2 diabetes - An individual's cells become resistant to insulin and the pancreas is not able to create enough insulin cells to overcome the resistance. As a result, sugar builds up in the bloodstream. This is the more common type of diabetes and it is often preceded by prediabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes - Sometimes changes caused by pregnancy can cause a woman's cells to become more resistant to insulin, which can cause sugar to build up in the bloodstream (
Symptoms of diabetes, or prediabetes, can vary depending upon how much sugar is currently in an individual's system. Some warning signs to look for are
  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • extreme hunger
  • unexplained weight loss
  • presence of ketones in the urine - a byproduct produced when the body begins breaking down muscle and fat, instead of using the sugar in the system
  • fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • slow-healing sores
  • mild high blood pressure
  • frequent infections - especially gum and skin, or vaginal or bladder (  
If you suspect that you or someone you love may have diabetes, it is important to see the doctor as soon as possible. 

Diabetes is a disease that can seriously impact your life. I watched one of my grandmothers suffer from this disease for many years. She lost most of her sight, and had problems with her feet. Both of these things made her life much harder and kept her from fully enjoying many things that she had previously regularly done, such as crocheting and gardening. I have been working hard to take precautions that will hopefully help prevent this disease by working on eating healthy and avoiding extra sugar whenever possible. I try to save sugary treats for truly special occasions and not partake on a daily basis. I also check ingredients on prepackaged foods to determine if there is added sugar - you would be surprised at the amount of sugar that can be hidden in foods that we don't normally think of as "sweet"! I have also been working on being more active on a regular basis and keeping my weight down to a healthy level. The Mayo Clinic says, "If you're overweight, losing even 5 percent of your body weight - for example, 10 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds - can reduce the risk of diabetes" ( Focusing on healthy eating and lifestyle can be hard at times, but I keep myself motivated by regularly assessing how much better I feel when I eat right and stay active, and by thinking about how good it feels to know that these, sometimes hard, decisions mean that I am taking care of myself.

The American Diabetes Association will be working all month to raise awareness for this disease. This year's campaign has the theme "A Day in the Life of Diabetes". Individuals are encouraged to participate by sending in photos showing what it is like to live with this disease on a daily basis. CVS has partnered with the American Diabetes Association to donate $1 for each photo uploaded. To upload your photos and participate in this awareness raising campaign, see this site:

What motivates you to stay healthy? Please share your ideas with us!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Health Benefits of Walking

This time of year in northwest Texas is great! I took a walk after work last night at one of the local parks, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The temperature was great, there wasn't too much wind, the sky was bright blue, and the lake had several ducks on it still enjoying the water before it gets too cold. At the end of my walk not only did my mind feel cleared and fresh, my body felt pleasantly exercised and relaxed.

In fact, there are many health benefits to be gained from walking. The Mayo Health Clinic states that it can help

  • Lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol)
  • Raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol)
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Reduce your risk of or manage type 2 diabetes
  • Manage your weight
  • Improve your mood
  • Help you stay strong and fit (
In addition to these benefits, a recent article at the American Association of Retired People (AARP) called it "the easiest exercise" and went on to say that "it will help you maintain your independence and ability to do daily tasks as you age" ( And, there is the additional benefit of it being an activity that you can share with others - even pets! - which can lend a more social aspect.

Even though this is a task that we perform every day, if you have not previously been walking for long periods of time, there are some precautions you should take before you get started:
  • Be sure to have comfortable shoes and clothing - consider layering clothes to make it easier to adjust to temperature
  • Use correct posture
  • Warm up by starting out walking slowly and then gradually increase your pace
  • Stretch your muscles - ideally both before and after you walk
  • Cool down after your session to help reduce the stress on your heart and muscles (
There are many mental benefits to walking, as well, and as I was walking yesterday I remembered that Charles Dickens was a great walker. I knew that he routinely walked many miles on a daily basis, but I was surprised at just how many - up to 20 miles a day according to this article:! I found it interesting that these walks not only helped spur his creativity, but they also helped relieve some of the mental pressure that he seems to have faced as a serious writer.

I plan to keep with my walking habit. When it gets too cold outside, I will move indoors to the treadmill. Walking indoors loses some of the atmosphere that I enjoy while being outside, but I still get most of the great benefits of this type of exercise. Do you have any thoughts to share on walking as a health benefit?