Your Cancer Answers: Who Needs Lung Cancer Screening?

Your Cancer Answers: Who Needs Lung Cancer Screening?

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women in the United States.

Smoking tobacco products causes nearly 9 out of 10 cases of lung cancer and can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body.

Unfortunately, systemic issues such as health care coverage have contributed to health disparities for people facing lung cancer. Black Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, as well as Native Americans who are diagnosed with lung cancer may face worse outcomes because they are less likely to be diagnosed early, less likely to receive surgery and/or any treatment.

Quitting smoking or not starting to smoke is the single most important thing people can do to prevent lung cancer. While most people who develop the disease have a history of smoking, non-smokers are also at risk.

Non-smokers also get lung cancer.

Some important facts: Between 10 and 20% of people with lung cancer today have never smoked a cigarette. The first signs of lung cancer are not always obvious. Most people feel no pain or discomfort during the early stages of the disease.

A lung cancer screening could save your life. A low-dose CT scan helps detect signs of lung cancer, such as nodules or spots on the lungs, early when the disease is most treatable. It’s never too late to quit!

Regardless of your smoking history, you can still reduce your risk of lung cancer and other diseases like heart disease by kicking the habit now. Just five years smoke-free can halve the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder. And in 10 years, your risk of dying from cancer is half the risk of someone still lighting up.

Should you get tested? Risk factors include: people between the ages of 50 and 77; those who currently smoke or who have quit within the past 15 years; and those who have smoked at least one pack of cigarettes a day for more than 20 years.

Your best chance of survival is if your cancer is caught early.

If you are a current or former smoker, your risk of developing lung cancer may be up to 10 to 25 times higher than someone who has never smoked. But smoking alone is not the only risk factor.

There are other risk factors for developing lung cancer, including a family history of lung cancer or exposure to dangerous chemicals. It is important to consider your exposure over time to chemicals and pollutants such as cadmium, beryllium, silica, vinyl chloride, nickel and chromium compounds, coal products, carbon dioxide, diesel exhaust, asbestos, arsenic, radon, air pollution and chest radiation.

CT scans are the only proven effective way to screen for lung cancer. As you know, lung cancer detected early is more likely to be treated and cured. Take charge of your health: get tested!

Screening for lung cancer is done using an imaging machine to produce a low-dose spiral (or helical) computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest. This scan uses a series of X-rays to show the shape, size, and location of any abnormalities in the chest that might signal the need for follow-up.

CT scans are very sensitive and can show both cancerous and non-cancerous areas.

To obtain a CT scan, the patient lies very still on a table, which is slowly moved through the CT scanner. An x-ray machine rotates around the person and takes pictures from many angles; a computer then combines the images into a very detailed image. The procedure takes less than 30 seconds.

No medication or injections are needed and there is no need to stop eating or drinking before the exam. As long as their clothes are metal-free, patients may not even have to change.

However, it is important to be able to hold your breath for several seconds. This way the lungs will not move during the scan and the images will be clear.

Call our nurse navigator Carol Lowe, RN, OCN, to discuss the benefits and risks associated with lung cancer screening at 805-346-3463. Our goal is to reduce the number of deaths from lung cancer.

HAVE A QUESTION? This weekly column produced by the Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program invites you to submit your questions to “Your Cancer Answers” at the following email address:

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