Lung cancer continues to be one of the most common cancers worldwide, claiming more lives yearly than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.
Many people consider lung cancer a “smoker’s disease” as well as assume it is mostly a cancer found in men. However, while it is true that smoking is the top cause of lung cancer by a large margin, approximately 15 to 20% of cases in the U.S. happen in people who have never smoked or have smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their life. Being exposed to secondhand smoke can play a part, as nonsmokers have a 20 to 30% greater chance of developing lung cancer if they are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work. Other factors may include radon, occupational exposures to carcinogens and outdoor air pollution.
Being typically considered a disease found mostly in men, recent statistics from the American Lung Association reveal that more women are getting lung cancer, even if they have never smoked. The incidence of new lung cancer cases over the past 42 years has dropped 36% for men while at the same time it has risen 84% for women.
Lung Cancer Awareness Month, observed in November, and the Great American Smokeout held the third Thursday of November (Nov. 17) to challenge smokers to give up cigarettes for 24 hours, call attention to this growing issue and educate the public about the potential causes and risk factors of this disease. This month also promotes the need for screening among eligible populations and stresses the importance of research underway to identify more effective treatments.
The most important factor in preventing lung cancer is to not smoke at all or for those who do smoke, to start a smoking cessation program to get help in quitting immediately. This is important for the smoker and for those around them who can also be affected by secondhand smoke.
Lung cancer is, unfortunately, one of those diseases where symptoms may not present until the late stages, when treatment options are limited, and the survival rate is very low. Early symptoms include:
- A cough that is getting worse and lasts for weeks
- Coughing up blood or dark phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Hoarseness in the voice
- Pain in bones
- Unintentional weight loss
Early detection saves lives and screenings for lung cancer are available within the local community. HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital offers a low-dose CT lung cancer screening program for the early diagnosis of lung cancer.
The goal of the screening program is to detect cancer at an early stage, even before someone has symptoms. At an early stage, surgery or other treatment options are possible and the cure rate can be much higher. According to the American Lung Association, early detection by low-dose CT screening can decrease lung cancer mortality by 14 to 20% among high-risk populations.
The screening is a quick, painless, non-invasive low dose CT scan that can detect nodules or spots on your lung, which might be early indicators of lung cancer. The CT imaging technology uses an eighth of the radiation as that of a standard CT so there is very little risk in lung cancer screening.
Anyone interested in being screened should talk to their physician about the screening criteria, potential benefits, limitations, and possible risks of having a lung cancer screening. Lung cancer screenings are most beneficial to those with the highest risk of lung cancer:
- Current or former smokers who are older: A lung cancer screening is generally an option for smokers and former smokers who are 50 years or older. Check with your insurance provider or Medicare on their age/smoking history requirement, as well as any other criteria.
- Smoked heavily for many years: Those who have a tobacco smoking history of at least 20 “pack years” – an average of one pack (20 cigarettes) per day for 20 years.
- Once smoked heavily but have since quit: Those who were once a heavy smoker for a long time but have since quit smoking in the last 15 years.
The cost of the screening is $64 and payment is expected at the time of the scan. A physician’s order is required for a lung cancer screening. For more information on the low dose lung cancer screening at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital, visit here.
The American Lung Association also offers a low-dose CT lung cancer screening test and eligibility quiz to see if you should get screened. Visit lung.org/our-initiatives/saved-by-the-scan.