Lung Cancer Awareness Month
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.
Cigarette smoking is the top risk factor for lung cancer, with the Centers for Disease Control estimating more than 80% of all cases are caused by tobacco use. Unfortunately, about 70% of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage when survival rates are low.
Screening for Lung Cancer
Low-dose computed tomography, known as a CT scan, is key for identifying lung cancer early. Under new lung cancer screening guidelines, updated in 2021, anyone between the ages of 50 and 80 who have smoked at least 20 “pack-years” and either still smoke or quit within the last 15 years will be eligible.
A “pack-year” is calculated by multiplying the number of packs a day someone smoked during the years they smoked the most by the number of years they smoked. For example, someone could qualify by smoking a pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years. Prior to the updated guidelines, low-dose CT scans were only recommended for heavier smokers (30 pack-years), starting at age 55.
Black Americans, women, and younger people with lung cancer tend to smoke less, which means they often do not meet the former screening thresholds, despite being at risk for lung cancer. The updated task force recommendations correct for this. The updated guidelines also mean private insurers must offer the screening without a copay to those who are eligible.
Symptoms of lung cancer
Lung cancer is often identified before symptoms occur, but some people with early lung cancer may experience symptoms.
A cough that does not go away or gets worse
Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
Loss of appetite
Unexplained weight loss
Shortness of breath
Feeling tired or weak
Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
New onset of wheezing
Go to your doctor when you first notice anything. If cancer is diagnosed at an earlier stage, treatment is most effective.
Scan and quit
Contact your primary care physician today to discuss whether you are a candidate for screening with a CT scan. Many imaging facilities also offer an affordable out-of-pocket price should you want to proceed with screening on your own. There are also blood tests available, like the Galleri Early Cancer Detection Test that screens for 50 cancers.
It is never too late to quit smoking. Freedom from Smoking (www.FreedomFromSmoking.org) through the American Lung Association, is one of the most successful programs to help people quit smoking. The many benefits of quitting include reduced risk of heart attacks, stroke, and cancer!