It's a well-documented fact that smoking increases one's risk for lung cancer, one of the most deadly forms of cancer.
More than likely for that reason and to improve their overall health, many Americans will take part in the Great American Smokeout Nov. 17, an annual event meant to bring awareness to the dangers of smoking and to encourage people to quit their addiction. The risk for lung cancer can linger, however, depending on your smoking history.
Lung cancer kills more men and women than any other type of cancer, accounting for about 27 percent of all cancer deaths, according to the American Lung Association. Advanced lung cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates at only 17.8 percent out of all cancers.
The reason lung cancer has such high morbidity rates is because in many cases the cancer isn't diagnosed until it has reached stage 3 or higher. A late-stage diagnosis greatly reduces a patient's rate of survival. Even at stage 3B, the patient's five-year survival rate falls to 5 percent.
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Early detection, better survival rates
As with most cancers, early detection makes a difference, allowing for more treatment options and better outcomes. If diagnosed in its earlier stages, lung cancer is very treatable. And now there's a screening to detect lung cancer earlier for Americans who are at higher risk for lung cancer because of a smoking history.
It's a quick and simple screening — taking only five minutes and done as an outpatient — and uses a low-dose CT scan. The scan provides multiple, detailed images of the patient's entire chest area, allowing doctors to spot lesions easier.
While screenings exist for breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and others, no recommended reoccurring screening had existed for patients at risk for lung cancer — until three years ago. Here's what happened to change that.
In August 2011, the National Cancer Institute released results from its National Lung Cancer Screening Trial. The study — which involved more than 53,000 current or heavy smokers between 55 and 74 years of age — found that a low-dose CT scan could lead to early detection and better survival rates.
In December 2013 and because of that study, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force — a panel of national health experts who evaluates the latest studies and research — released lung cancer screening guidelines and called for the creation of local lung cancer screening centers, which are now available in Wichita. For patients who meet lung cancer screening criteria, the procedure is covered by Medicare and private insurance.
How to get screened
The U.S. Preventative Task Force recommends that anyone starting at age 55 who meets either of these two criteria be screened:
▪ has a tobacco smoking history of at least 30 pack years, which is defined as number of packs per day times number of years smoking (i.e. one pack a day for 30 years or two packs daily for 15 years), or
▪ is a current smoker or someone who has quit smoking within the past 15 years.
While the task force has recommended making the screening available to those up to age 80 who meet the current or past smoking guidelines, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guideline covers screening until age 77.
If you have a smoking history, please visit with your physician about whether you are a candidate for a lung cancer screening. You'll breathe a whole lot easier, knowing that your chances for surviving lung cancer are better with early detection.
Dr. Abu-Samra is chair of pulmonology for Via Christi Clinic on Murdock in Wichita.