With lung cancer, early detection and prevention are critical
Approximately 230,000 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, resulting in over 135,000 deaths annually. It is the second most common type of cancer in both men and women and the leading cause of cancer death across the board.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness month, a time to learn the facts about cancer and the importance of lung health.
Dr. Luke Huerter, an oncologist with LMH Oncology & Hematology Center, said lung cancer deaths have started to decline because of a decrease in smoking, but cigarette smoking is the cause of approximately 90% of all lung cancer cases. For example, a current smoker who has smoked one pack per day for the past 40 years is 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than someone who has never smoked.
“Though smoking is the leading factor, radon exposure, which is naturally released from soil and can accumulate indoors, is the second leading cause,” Huerter said. “Other risk factors include radiation, secondhand smoke and asbestos exposure.”
The most meaningful change people can make to avoid lung cancer is to stop smoking. Huerter says making this lifestyle change extends beyond just lung cancer risk, since tobacco use increases the risk of other cancers and other significant medical issues such as cardiovascular disease. It is also important to limit secondhand smoke exposure and have your home tested for radon to lessen your risk.
“Lung cancer awareness is important for many reasons,” Huerter said. “It is a cancer that affects many of us. It is the leading cause of cancer death, which means there is a lot we can do to improve the way we treat this disease, and it starts with education about risk factors.
“Smoking cessation education has come a long way, and because of this, we have seen the death rate from lung cancer decrease,” he added. “Continuing education about the dangers of smoking will only help.”
Dr. Rashid Riaz, a pulmonologist with Lawrence Pulmonary Specialists at LMH Health, said early detection is important when treating lung cancer. Lung cancer screening with a CT scan can reduce mortality by up to 20%. Riaz said LMH Health offers lung cancer screening for those who qualify, and it is geared heavily toward those who have a heavy smoking history. The LMH Health Foundation covers costs for patients who may not be able to afford these screenings otherwise.
“We will offer to do lung cancer screening on patients who are long-standing smokers, meaning they have smoked roughly a pack a day for over 30 years, they are between 55 and 80 years of age and either actively smoke or have stopped in the past 15 years,” Riaz said. “What this screening consists of is a low-dose CT scan, which those who qualify will receive each year in an effort to catch the cancer early.”
The LMH Health Oncology & Hematology Center, an accredited Commission on Cancer site, treats lung cancer and many other cancer types, including breast cancer, head and neck cancer, neuroendocrine tumors, hepatobiliary cancers, prostate cancer, colon cancer, bladder cancer and kidney cancer. Cancer patients at LMH Health have access to clinical trials, genetics programs, comprehensive support programs, lifelong survivorship resources and a cancer prevention program.
It is important to be aware of the warning signs that could indicate lung cancer. When signs present themselves, you may want to seek medical guidance from a pulmonologist or oncologist.
“Some of the most common warning signs are persistent cough, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, chest pain, reduced appetite or weight loss,” Riaz said. “However, often when symptoms are present, it is important to seek care immediately.
Riaz said Lawrence Pulmonary Specialists works closely with the oncology team at LMH Health.
“If a patient has a very early stage lung cancer, we may refer that patient directly to surgery, but if there is any question at all about the treatment, we get oncology involved as soon as possible,” Riaz said.
If cancer is suspected, a diagnostic procedure called a bronchoscopy can be performed. This procedure lets doctors look at lungs and air passages by sending a tube through the nose or mouth down into the lungs. Riaz said this is a way to see if there are any abnormalities in the airways or if there are enlarged lymph nodes around the lungs. A biopsy can then be taken for a diagnosis.
Riaz emphasized that most cases of lung cancer are preventable, and he urged people who smoke to change their habits.
“The biggest thing we can advise you to do is to stop smoking if you are an active smoker,” he said. “Doctors are here to help, but eliminating the biggest risk factor can help the most.”
Riaz also said vaping is still considered smoking and is not an alternative to smoking, nor should it be used as a way to stop smoking. There many dangerous substances in vaping products, and the oils contain known carcinogens, he said.
“I don’t need years of data to tell me vaping is bad and will cause lung cancer,” he said. “I believe vaping will cause lung disease and cancer. I will never encourage vaping because we have no idea what are in those oils. Lung cancer can be treatable and curable when risks are avoided and steps are taken to catch cancer early.”
— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s health section.