Lung Cancer: Why Early Diagnosis is Critical
The American Cancer Society estimates that we’ll have 224,000 newly diagnosed cases of lung cancer – the deadliest form of cancer – in 2014.
While there hasn’t been much progress made in the last 25 or 30 years in terms of lung cancer survival rates, Michael Shehata MD, of the TriHealth Cancer Institute, says he’s confident we’re on the verge of changing that.
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“Recently, there was a national lung cancer screening trial performed, which evaluated the use of annual CT lung screenings in high-risk populations and this study identified a 20 percent lower incidence in lung cancer mortality with low-dose CT lung screening,” he explains. Essentially, this study concluded that the key to increasing survival rates for those diagnosed with lung cancer is early detection.
Patients who were eligible for the study met the following criteria:
- Ages 55 to 74, with a 30-pack per year history of smoking
- Either current smokers or had smoked regularly within the past 15 years
- In overall good health
Lung Cancer Risk Factors and Symptoms
The use of tobacco products is the number one cause of lung cancer. However, it’s important to remember that “10 percent of lung cancers occur in non-smokers,” Dr. Shehata points out.
Other factors that put you at risk for developing lung cancer – even if you’re a non-smoker, include: second-hand smoke exposure, exposure to radon gas, environmental factors, like living in an area with high levels of air pollution, and family history.
While early lung cancer often does not present any symptoms, if you start to experience the following symptoms, schedule a visit with your doctor for examination:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
New Guidelines for Lung Cancer Screening Show Promise
“Without screening for lung cancer, most patients are already in the advance stages at the time of diagnosis,” Dr. Shehata explains. This is why cure rates are relatively low, compared to breast and colon cancer, for example.
In an effort to catch lung cancer cases earlier, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), released new guidelines in 2013 recommending that high-risk smokers get screened annually for three years for lung cancer with a low-dose CT scan. Currently, these screenings are not covered by insurance, but Dr. Shehata thinks this will change over the next few years.
“That’s actually the biggest breakthrough that’s happened,” he says. “I’m confident that we’re at the turning point for lung cancer … The key factor for improving our outcomes for breast cancer was early diagnosis and treatment. Now, we have the tools to do that with lung cancer.”