Lung Cancer is the Leading Cause of Cancer Deaths in the U.S.
This month, the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE initiative is urging everyone to learn about risk factors for the disease and highlighting the importance of early detection through lung cancer screening.
Lung Cancer at a Glance
Lung cancer occurs in the body when lung cells mutate, most often, but not always, following exposure to dangerous chemicals that we breathe. Risk factors include smoking and exposure to radon and air pollution, which all increase the level of dangerous chemicals exposed to the lungs.
Lung cancers land under two umbrellas: small cell carcinomas and non-small cell. Small-cell lung cancer is almost always associated with cigarette smoking and is usually treated with chemotherapy. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common, making up 80% of lung cancer cases.
Lung cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms in the early stages, and sometimes no symptoms appear at all. It is usually caught through an imaging test. This is why screening is so important.
Do You Need Lung Cancer Screening?
Like all other cancers, lung cancer cells grow uncontrollably and cluster together to form a tumor, destroying healthy lung tissue around them. Symptoms usually do not appear until cancer cells spread to other parts of the body and prevent other organs from functioning properly. At this point, it is harder to treat lung cancer. This is why screening high-risk individuals have the potential to dramatically improve lung cancer survival rates.
Are you high-risk? Check the criteria below. If you meet it, screening is recommended:
- 50-80 years of age
- Have a 20-pack-year history of smoking (pack a day for 20 years, 2 packs a day for 10 years, etc.)
- Are a current smoker, or have quit within the last 15 years
The American Lung Association’s quiz can help you know if you should talk to your doctor about being screened for lung cancer via a low-dose CT scan. Learn more about screening below:
Getting a positive result
A “positive” result means that the low-dose CT scan shows something abnormal. This is usually a nodule of a concerning size. You may need to have additional scans or other procedures to find out exactly what it is. If the scan is negative, the scan didn’t find anything abnormal.
Don’t worry about exposure
There’s often radiation exposure risk with some imaging tests, however, this test delivers a low dose. The amount is about the same as what an average American gets in six months of natural background radiation by living on planet Earth.
Screening helps prevent death
Lung cancer screening finds 80 percent of lung cancer at an early stage when it is more curable. Without screening, 70 percent of lung cancers are found at a later stage when there is little chance of a cure.
False positives are possible
Many things can be detected from a scan that is not lung cancer. It could find nodules that are very slow-growing cancers that would never cause you harm. Actually, about 12-14 percent of the initial screening scans will have a false positive, which is similar to a mammogram.
Lung Cancer and Biomarker Testing: Two Families’ Stories
Hear about the importance of testing from someone who has lived it in this video by the American Lung Association. This testimonial is given by two lung cancer caregivers.