As lung cancer awareness month approaches us in November, we think about what lung cancer risk means to ourselves, friends, family members, and our patients. Many don’t know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., far surpassing the rates of other cancers like breast, colon, and prostate.
What’s the risk of getting lung cancer?
The health risks from cigarette smoking are considerable and pose the largest risk for lung cancer; more than any other risk factors combined. Men who smoke are at 23 x the increased risk and women at 16 x the risk for lung cancer. This lung cancer risk is directly correlated with the concentration of (numbers of cigarettes smoked each day) X (number of years smoked).
Fortunately, the number of those who have quit smoking is growing, but sadly, more than half of all newly diagnosed lung cancers today are occurring in former smokers or non-smokers. People who have quit smoking remain at continued risk for lung cancer and there is also concern about lung cancer in second-hand smoke exposure.
The positive news on lung cancer is that two large multicenter research trials have been conducted in the past 12 years. The Swedish Cancer Institute was a major study site for one of these trials in association with Seattle Radiology. These trials have very clearly and consistently shown significant benefit in the early detection of lung cancer with low dose CT scan, reducing lung cancer mortality by 20%.
Who should be screened and how?
Understanding who is at risk for lung cancer is helpful but identifying who should be screened and how to effectively screen for lung cancer, in people who are at high risk, is even more important. Until recently, lung cancer was diagnosed when patients had clinical symptoms and late advanced stage disease. Identifying a high risk patient population and using low dose CT scan technology allows for the detection of cancer at an earlier and treatable stage.
National trials have identified a high risk population targeted for screening as:
- Age 55-74
- Smoking history of at least 30 pack years
- Active smokers or smokers who have quit in the last 15 years
Late diagnosis of lung cancer directly contributes to poor survival rates and reduces chances for a cure. With low dose CT scan screening in high risk patients, we are able to detect early stage lung cancers and dramatically improve long-term survival rates for patients with lung cancer.
Know your risk and be proactive about lung cancer. If you are interested in learning more about lung cancer screening at Swedish Cancer Institute please visit www.swedish.org/lcsp or download the lung cancer screening brochure here.