Addressing your risk of lung cancer

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Sarah Wang, MD, medical oncologist/hematologist, Parkview Cancer Institute, explains the role of early detection in combatting this particularly aggressive form of cancer.

Lung cancer accounts for about 27 percent of all cancer deaths and is, by far, the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

As an insidious disease with aggressive behavior, lung cancer is frequently asymptomatic until locally advanced or metastatic. Common symptoms include cough, dyspnea (difficulty breathing), chest pain, weight loss, hemoptysis (coughing up blood), bone pain and hoarseness. The majority of patients present with either locally advanced or metastatic disease, and only 20-30 percent of patients have potentially operable, early stage disease at presentation.  

Early detection

Is early detection for lung cancer possible? Yes. Research has shown that low-dose CT screening is an effective way to detect early stage lung cancer. The recent updated results of the NELSON study (The Dutch-Belgian Randomized Lung Cancer Screening Trial) at the 19th World Conference on Lung cancer (WCLC) demonstrated that the use of computed tomography (CT) screening among asymptomatic men at high risk for lung cancer led to a 26 percent reduction in lung cancer deaths at 10 years of study follow-up. In fact, 69 percent screen-detected lung cancers were at early stage, stage IA or IB, which is potentially curable. 

We recommend current or prior smokers talk to their physician regarding the risk of lung cancer and have a lung cancer screening. Parkview offers the SmartLung CT scan at a cost of $99, which may be covered by insurance. Medicare and Medicaid cover the cost of CT screening for those age 55-77 who have no symptoms of lung cancer, have a 30 pack-year smoking history, and if they have quit within 15 years.  


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