Why it’s important
Lung cancer is a devastating disease and remains the number one cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States. There is a strong possibility that lung cancer will affect you or someone close to you. Until recently, there have been few treatment advances to improve survival from lung cancer. However, improvements in preventative measures such as smoking cessation and avoiding exposures such as radon have made an impact. Recently, screening for those at risk of lung cancer has shown great promise.
Life changing results…ignored
Results from the National Lung Screening Trial showed that screening of those at risk** (given below) of lung cancer improved survival by up to 20% in patients diagnosed with the disease. Despite this overwhelming benefit of lung cancer screening, rates remain staggeringly low. For example, research presented at the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting revealed that in 2016 only 1.9% of a 7.6 million eligible populations was screened in the US.
Lung cancer screening involves simply a low-dose CT scan of the chest. For those that meet criteria, screening should be approved by most insurances as the Affordable Care Act requires that Medicare and private insurers provide coverage. Further support for screening is given by it’s cost-effectiveness: Research from the Lung Cancer Alliance shows the cost per life-year saved is better than screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers.
Symptoms of lung cancer are not specific and as such lung cancer often progresses to advanced stages before symptoms obvious enough to seek medical attention. Screening detects the cancer at an early stage where cure is most likely. Also, advanced lung cancer require a combination of different treatments which has greater side effects. Early stage lung cancers can be treated with stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) which has minimal/no side effects and is given over 3-5 outpatient treatments.
How you can help!
Routine screening has not yet been incorporated into many practices and hospital programs for a variety of reasons. But you can do your part to help! Get the word out about lung cancer screening. Do whatever you can by encouraging current and former smokers to get screened. Share this article. Help your community and raise awareness for smoking prevention and screening. You may just save someone’s life.
**Yearly screening is recommended for those that meet the following criteria:
- Have a history of smoking 30 pack years* or more and
- Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years and
- Are between 55 and 80 years old.
*A pack year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. (It is important to note that this method averages such that a two pack per day smoker meets criteria after only 15 years. If you meet these criteria contact your doctor about screening.)