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% 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% 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 of screen-detected lung cancers were caught at an early 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. A SmartLung CT is a simple, non-invasive scan that can detect lung cancer in its early stages. This low-dose chest CT scan takes approximately 15 minutes. Parkview offers the SmartLung CT scan at a cost of $99, which may be covered by insurance. Asymptomatic individuals, ages 55-80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit smoking within the past 15 years, may be eligible for a free SmartLung CT scan.

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