As we mark Lung Cancer Awareness Month this November, it’s a good time to familiarize yourself with risk factors, prevention steps, and screening guidelines for the disease.
Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, accounting for about one in five of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.
In 2023, the ACS estimates the United States will see about 238,000 new cases of lung cancer, with slightly more women than men receiving a diagnosis.
The good news is that advancements in medicine make it possible to detect lung cancer earlier through screening tests and imaging, leading to better outcomes. If lung cancer is caught before it spreads, the likelihood of surviving five years or more improves to 63%, according to the American Lung Association.
“For individuals who meet the criteria, it’s vital to get screened,” says Dr. Scott Parrish, a Pulmonologist with Fox Valley Pulmonary Medicine. “Diagnosing lung cancer early allows us to begin treating the disease when it’s most curable.”
Know the Warning Signs
In its early stages, lung cancer is often asymptomatic. Individuals may not notice initial symptoms until the disease has begun to progress.
Some people may be able to identify early signs of the condition, which may include:
- A persistent cough or coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
- Chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
- Feeling unusually tired or weak
- Experiencing frequent or recurring pneumonia or bronchitis infections
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, speak with your primary care provider.
Who Should Get Screened?
It’s well-known that certain populations have an increased risk of developing lung cancer. The recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography, also known as a low-dose CT scan.
Experts recommend these screenings for adults 50 and older who have no current symptoms but are high risk. Factors such as smoking, family history, or exposure to certain environmental toxins can increase the likelihood of developing lung cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that cigarette smoking is the No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer. In the United States, it’s linked to 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths.
Tobacco smoke includes a dangerous concoction of more than 7,000 harmful chemicals, making tobacco products such as cigarettes, pipes, and cigars a direct link.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for those who meet the following criteria:
- Are between the ages of 50-80
- Smoke now or have quit within the last 10 to 15 years
- Have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history (a pack-year denotes smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for an entire year)
Talk to your primary care provider about whether you’re a candidate for screening.
Remaining proactive with your health is key to prevention. By managing controllable lifestyle risk factors, you can work toward leading a healthier life. Follow these steps:
- Quit smoking: No matter how long you’ve been using tobacco, quitting can reduce your risk of chronic diseases and lung cancer. Reach out to your primary care provider for assistance or call the National Smoking Cessation Hotline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
- Eat well: Consume a well-balanced diet consisting of foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins. Limit your consumption of artificial sweeteners and highly processed foods.
- Get moving: Exercise. Not only is exercise a mood-booster, but it encourages healthy lung function and circulation.
- Recognize risk factors: Identify your risk factors so you can make necessary lifestyle modifications to help avoid developing lung cancer.
- Be your own advocate: Stay proactive by scheduling a lung cancer screening, if necessary, and discussing any health concerns with your physician. You know your body better than anyone, and working alongside your health care team can help ensure it stays healthy.
We’re Here for You
ThedaCare is here for you every step of the way, whether you’re just starting your journey of smoking cessation, are concerned about your risk of developing lung cancer, or have recently received a diagnosis.
To further enhance the ability to diagnose lung cancer, ThedaCare Cancer Care offers the Monarch Robotic Platform. This tool may lead to earlier and more accurate diagnosis of small and hard-to-reach nodules in the periphery of the lung.
“This platform can improve patient outcomes and enhance physician capabilities,” Dr. Parrish says.
Experts use the platform to view the inside of the lungs and obtain a tissue sample for biopsy. This technology, which integrates robotics, software, data science, and endoscopy, uses small cameras and tools to enter the body through natural openings for a less invasive approach.
“We’re dedicated to helping people lead happy and healthy lives,” Dr. Parrish says. “With these innovative testing options, we hope to alleviate anxiety when it comes to patient care and to facilitate early lung cancer detection.”