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The Leading Causes of Death in Hawaii

What's Killing Us? You’ve got to go somehow. Here are the things you should really worry about.


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No. 3 Lung Cancer

Lung cancer leads to more deaths every year in Hawaii than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined. According to the Hawaii Cancer Facts and Figures, lung cancer is the second-most-common type of cancer diagnosed among men, and the third-most common among women in Hawaii. In 2008, 546 people died from lung cancer. Every year, hundreds of new patients are diagnosed—most are over the age of 55—and the cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage. Compared to high-profile cancers like breast cancer, lung cancer isn’t as known to the public. “We need to increase awareness,” says Debbie Odo, director of tobacco control at the American Lung Association in Hawaii (ALAH), who adds that the  biggest cause of lung cancer is smoking. Want to quit? ALAH provides education materials, and also provides support and training for free community smoking-prevention programs such as Teens Against Tobacco Use and Music with a Message. “We train students to advocate against smoking and they create their own methods to do that,” says Odo, who also lobbies for funding for smoking cessation and prevention at the state Legislature. Lung cancer and diseases caused by smoking aren’t just costly in terms of lives; they cost the state $1.1 billion each year, says Odo.

In Hawaii, Filipino men smoke the most, followed by Native Hawaiian women and men. Japanese women smoke the least.

Just Say No

Cigarette smoking among Hawaii’s young people has declined significantly. In 2000, 63 percent of high school students reported they had tried smoking. In 2007, that number dropped to 38 percent. Fewer Hawaii middle schoolers have tried cigarettes, too, from 38 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2007.

Fighting Back Against Lung Cancer

The American Cancer Society of Hawaii Pacific hosts multiple fundraisers throughout the year, statewide, including Relays for Life and DetermiNation, a program for sponsoring triathletes to raise money. Of course, the ACS helps people deal with cancer, wherever it strikes, including Hawaii’s No. 8 top killer, colon cancer. Honolulu office: 2370 Nuuanu Avenue, 595-7544, acshawaiipacific.org.

Lung cancer is the no. 1 cause of all cancer deaths in the world.

Did You Know?

1,000 Hawaii residents die annually from diseases related to tobacco use.

400,000 Number of lung cancer survivors living in the U.S. today.

A Survivor’s Story

In December 1977, Oahu resident Jim Tilton was diagnosed with lung cancer. His doctors removed part of his lung, but he considers himself  fortunate because he didn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiation. “Since then my lungs have been clear,” he says. Unfortunately, he’s gearing up for another fight, as he’s been diagnosed with brain tumors. When it comes to lung cancer, the earlier the diagnosis, the better. “Don’t let it get you,” says Tilton, who recommends leaning on family, friends and spirituality for support. “Look at what’s important to you.”


No. 4 Chronic Respiratory Diseases

Smoking isn’t the only culprit in lung diseases. Both indoor and outdoor air quality are also critical. More than 130,000 adults in Hawaii suffer from the state’s fourth-most-common cause of death, chronic respiratory diseases, which include asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), such as emphysema. In 2008, they claimed 290 lives. Odo says it’s important to have proper air ventilation when using cleaning products and to stay indoors when possible if you’re affected by vog. While air pollution is inevitable, lucky you live Hawaii. According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2009 report, Honolulu was the third-cleanest U.S. city for long-term particle pollution. Particle pollution is a mix of tiny solid and liquid particles in the air that we breathe, from sources such as car exhaust, construction projects, power plants, sulfur dioxide (vog) and more.


Year the American Lung Association expanded to Hawaii. ALAH’s original mission? Combating tuberculosis.

Fighting Back

The American Lung Association in Hawaii focuses on this top killer, as well as asthma, vog, influenza (No. 6 on this list) and lung cancer (No. 3 on this list.) Honolulu office: 680 Iwilei Road, Suite 575, 537-5966, ala-hawaii.org.

More than 3.1 million people have been diagnosed with emphysema in the U.S.

Waiting to Inhale

Shirley Uyehara has been living with emphysema for seven years. “I smoked for 40-plus years,” says the 66-year-old, “and I enjoyed every bit of it.” While she doesn’t regret her former habit, today Uyehara breathes with the assistance of an oxygen tank, is admitted to Pali Momi Medical Center frequently and has a hard time getting up and down stairs. Her doctors said she might get some reprieve by finding a new home for her two cockatoos and two Chihuahuas, “but they’re my life,” she says, “so I suffer through it.” Uyehara does find comfort at the Better Breathers Club of Hawaii. The meetings, spearheaded by Brenda Moniz, of the American Lung Association in Hawaii, allow members to talk story about their medical conditions and offer support and advice.

Emphysema is a condition in which the walls between the alveoli, or air sacs within the lung, lose the ability to stretch and recoil.

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