November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the stakes couldn’t be higher when it comes to early detection. It’s commonly believed that lung cancer—the growth of abnormal, unhealthy cells in one or both lungs that eventually develop into tumors—is a disease associated only with those who smoke or have smoked in the past. It’s a dangerous misconception. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), as many as 20 percent of those who die from lung cancer every year (roughly 16,000 to 24,000 Americans) do not smoke or engage in any form of tobacco use.1 Translation: We’re all potentially at risk.
Right now, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women in the United States. Annually, more people lose their lives to lung cancer than to colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. It is estimated that in 2016, roughly 158,080 Americans will die from the disease. Women, in particular, should be aware of its prevalence. Not only is it the leading cause of cancer deaths, its rate among women has risen a shocking 94 percent over the past four decades.
Despite the grim numbers, there is hope. The earlier lung cancer can be detected and treatment begins, the better the chances of survival. The five-year survival rate for cases detected while the disease is still localized (within the lungs) is approximately 55 percent. However, once the cancer spreads to other organs, the rate plummets to an astonishingly low 4 percent.2
For many, diagnosis comes when it’s almost too late. It’s the tragic reason more than half of those with lung cancer die within a year of being diagnosed.
Clearly, early detection is crucial. Most patients with early stage lung cancer are symptom-free. However, even when symptoms are present, they are often ignored because they can mimic other common ailments. These can include a prolonged cough or flu, the coughing up of blood, chest pain, wheezing, hoarseness, headache, and repeated bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia. The silent nature of the progression of lung cancer has contributed to the difficulty in early detection. In fact, the ribbon for lung cancer awareness is clear or white – a nod to the fact that symptoms are often “invisible.” White also acts as a symbol of hope, off-setting the stigma lung cancer patients sometimes feel because of the disease’s connotation with smoking. Instead of blame, our focus must be on prevention and early diagnosis.
This is why regular screenings are imperative. The screening process itself is quick and non-invasive. In a matter of minutes, a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) provides detailed images of each lung. With this technology, abnormalities as small as a grain of rice can be detected. The history of lung cancer screening has taught us that early detection saves lives. For those individuals who smoke/have smoked, are living with a smoker or have been exposed to asbestos, radon or other environmental toxins – you may be at risk for lung cancer and should be screened.
If you’ve recently had a scan, have been diagnosed, need a second opinion or would like an expert review, our team of specialists will help evaluate findings and devise a treatment plan that is right for you.
As the pioneers of video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), we have decades of experience in minimally invasive surgical treatments and can provide our patients with helpful information about their conditions. Our Thoracic Group surgeons work in collaboration with a team of specialists including oncologists, pulmonologists, radiologists, pathologists and nurse navigators.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact Thoracic Group today.