Screening rates for lung cancer — the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. — are much lower than screening rates for other cancers. Only 2 to 4 percent of those at high risk for the disease are screened.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and a good time to learn more about the disease and advances in early detection.
Despite declining smoking rates, lung cancer remains the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. in both men and women (the first is skin cancer).
An estimated 234,030 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018, and about 154,050 will die of the disease. In New York alone, 13,190 will be diagnosed and 8,490 will die of the disease this year.
A staggering 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths are attributed to cigarette smoking. But that means up to 20 percent of people who die from lung cancer in the U.S. every year have never smoked or used another form of tobacco (such as pipe or cigar), so we should all be informed about this disease.
Other risk factors include exposure to radon gas in soil, asbestos in building materials, secondhand smoke, workplace exposure to certain toxic substances, and personal or family history of the disease.
E-cigarettes may contain fewer toxic chemicals than regular cigarettes, but they still contain nicotine, which is addictive and can cause harm to brain development for kids and teens.
The ingredients in e-cigarettes are not yet known, so they should not be considered healthy alternatives until more research is done.
Symptoms of lung cancer (persistent cough, constant chest pain, long-lasting hoarseness or shortness of breath) often don’t appear until the disease reaches an advanced stage.
That’s why screening is so important for those at high risk. The earlier cancer is found, the more likely it is that treatment will be successful.
Low-dose CT screening has been shown to reduce heavy smokers’ risk of dying from lung cancer. A recent study presented at the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) World Conference on Lung Cancer showed annual screening in high-risk patients reduced lung cancer deaths by 26 percent in men and up to 61 percent in women.
Annual screening is recommended for adults ages 55 to 80 with a history of heavy smoking who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. Risks of CT scans include false positives (a result that suggests cancer is present when it really is not) or finding cancer that may never have been a problem.
Talk to a health care professional to decide if screening is right for you.
Quitting smoking (or never starting) is the best way to reduce your risk. The sooner you quit, the better your outcome.
You can also lower your risk by avoiding secondhand smoke, testing your home for radon, and following occupational health and safety guidelines if your job exposes you to carcinogens.
Without being judgmental, encourage loved ones who smoke to have conversations with their health care professionals about resources to quit and whether to be screened.
To learn more, visit preventcancer.org/lungcancer and smokefree.gov.
Dr. Wayne Kye is the spouse of Congresswoman Grace Meng and a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program..