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Lung Cancer Awareness Month: The Facts of Lung Cancer Screening and Prevention

11-17-2017

Although lung cancer is often not a topic most of us like to discuss or think about, it is important to know about the disease and the steps that patients and the doctors must take to manage risk and fight the illness.

We can all work towards making lung cancer a treatable, manageable condition! It’s time to increase public understanding of the disease, including its prevalence, approaches to screening and prevention.

Lung cancer is cancer that begins in the lungs. When a person has lung cancer, they have abnormal cells that cluster together to form a tumor. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells grow without order or control, destroying the healthy lung tissue around them. These types of tumors are called malignant tumors. When the cancer cells grow too fast, they prevent organs of the body from functioning properly.

Over the past years, there have been many improvements to lung cancer treatment. Many advancements been made in the fields of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. However, lung cancer remains a significant problem.

Lung cancer accounts for about 27 percent of all cancer deaths, and is by far the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Approximately 220,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed each year, and nearly 160,000 people die from the disease each year. In addition, smoking accounts for 87 percent of all lung cancer deaths for men and 70 percent for women in the U.S.

The most important way to prevent lung cancer is for patients to take control of their lives. The first step is to prevent lung cancer from happening at all. The next most important step is early detection, when treatement and a cure is at its highest.

So how can we best prevent lung cancer? Smoking cessation is key to preventing lung cancer. In fact, if you haven't started smoking, don't start this horrible habit!

If you are already a smoker, quitting the habit is the single most important thing that you can do to prevent lung cancer.

People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. Even smoking a few cigarettes a day or smoking occasionally increases the risk of lung cancer. The more years a person smokes and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the more the risk goes up.

People who quit smoking have a lower risk of lung cancer than if they had continued to smoke, but their risk is higher than the risk for people who never smoked. Quitting smoking at any age can lower the risk of lung cancer. Ten years after quitting, your risk of developing cancer is less than half of what it was before.

If you want to stop smoking, there is help available. Speak with your doctor. Quitting is not easy, and many people try several times before they succeed.

We offer the Quitsmart program at Caromont Health that can be of great benefit and provides personalized coaching. Contact Quitsmart at (704) 671-7936.

Other free resources are available by phone at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or online at www.becomeanex.org and www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/index.htm

The next best thing we can do to fight lung cancer besides preventing it from happening in the first place, is by finding it early.

The severity of lung cancer and how it responds to treatment depends on the “stage” of the cancer. Cancer stages tell how far the cancer has spread and help guide treatment. The chance of successful or curative treatment is much higher when lung cancer is diagnosed and treated in the early stages, before it spreads.

Because lung cancer doesn’t cause obvious symptoms in the earlier stages, diagnosis often comes after it has spread, when people start noticing that something is “wrong” .

When the disease has already spread, curing it is much harder. For example, stage 1 lung cancers can have a 75 to 90% survival rate, but for stage 4 cancer the survival is less than 5%.

At CaroMont, 200 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed each year. Over 60% of these cases are at stages 3 and 4.

Early detection of lung cancer is key to significantly decreasing lung cancer deaths. But how do we do that if the disease at the early stages usually does not cause much symptoms?

We can do that by looking for lung cancer proactively in patients who are at high risk for the disease. This is called lung cancer screening.

The goal of lung cancer screening is to enable detection of lung cancer before it has spread.
Treatment can then be provided, which can reduce the likelihood of dying from lung cancer.

The recommended screening test for lung cancer is a low-dose CAT scan of the lungs for people who are at high risk for lung cancer because of their age and cigarette smoking history.

If you are between the ages 55 to 74 who have at least a 30-pack-year smoking history, currently smoke, or have quit within the past 15 years, you could be a candidate for a lung cancer screening test. The testing is usually covered by insurance.

In a national trial, screening and following up with the doctor's recommendations was shown to reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer by 20%.

Caromont Health is opening a Lung Nodule & Lung Cancer Screening Program that will have a dedicated team of doctors and healthcare professionals who can help guide patients through this process.

If you are eligible for screening you should talk with your doctor or nurse. Screening with a low dose CAT scan has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer!

However, lung cancer screening does not prevent the development of lung cancer. Right now it is the best way to look for the disease - in someone at risk of developing it - before the disease has advanced enough to cause symptoms.

The goal of screening is to reduce the number of people who die from cancer by detecting the disease early in its course, when it is easier to treat.

Remember, the best way to reduce the risk of lung cancer happening in the first place is to not start smoking cigarettes, and to quit if you already smoke!

Categories: Physician's Blog