The Latest on Lung Cancer, and a Test that Could Save Your Life

lung cancer symptoms, screening

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According to the National Institutes of Health, “Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in both men and women, and the majority of these cancers are directly linked to cigarette smoking.” Lung cancer is more prevalent in smokers; however, non-smokers can also get lung cancer. If you are suffering from a chronic cough, recurring pneumonia or bronchitis, shortness of breath, or have a cough that produces blood, you should see your physician.

Smokers often disregard their cough as “a smoker’s cough” and do not seek a diagnosis until the cancer is advanced. Also, some patients in their 30s and 40s falsely believe they are too young to have lung cancer and ignore their symptoms.

In addition to smoking, risk factors for lung cancer include:

  • exposure to radon
  • secondhand smoke
  • certain chemicals or asbestos
  • a family history
  • or previous radiation to the chest.

Many people think that lung cancer is a death sentence, but, when caught early, a combination of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can significantly increase your chances of a cure. The key is to catch the cancer in its early stages through screening.

New Screening
If you are age 55 to 80, have smoked in the last 15 years, or are currently smoking and have a 30-pack-per-year smoking history, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends you receive an annual low-dose CT scan. This test allows us to see lung cancer in its earliest stages using much less radiation than a traditional CT scan. This screening has saved many lives and is available at local imaging facilities with a prescription from your doctor.

Here to Help You Quit
Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In fact, nearly 90 percent of lung cancers in the United States are linked to cigarette smoking. Even if you have smoked for many years, quitting now can still significantly reduce your risk for developing lung cancer. If you are looking for help to quit smoking, join the Howard County Department of Health Tobacco Cessation Program or call 410-313-6265.

E-Cigarettes
In recent years, many people have been turning to e-cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarette users should keep in mind that the safety of electronic cigarettes has not been adequately studied (nor demonstrated). Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, has been shown to be an inhaled vapor of e-cigarettes.

Francis Chuidian, M.D., is a pulmonologist with Johns Hopkins Community Physicians Pulmonary Medicine in Columbia.