According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), lung cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women — and it is the deadliest.
Most causes of lung cancer are preventable because they are linked to smoking, but lung cancer can also occur in people who are not smokers or considered at risk.
“Lung cancer is a major public health problem in the United States for a couple of reasons,” explains Dr. Norman Chen, a diagnostic radiologist affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. “First, it is very widespread with more than 223,000 new cases in the United States in 2017. And second, lung cancer is a deadly disease. Very often lung cancer goes undetected until it has reached a late stage and by then, medical therapy is not as effective.”
While lung cancer is considered a very serious diagnosis, those who are diagnosed at an early stage have a greater chance of successful treatment. According to the ACS, more than 540,000 people alive today have been diagnosed with lung cancer at some point.
That’s why screening for lung cancer is so important.
“We now have a proven technique for screening high-risk patients that can detect potential lung cancers earlier in their course when effective treatments and even complete cures are possible,” says Dr. Chen. “That test is a low-dose CT scan, which has been shown to reduce lung cancer deaths by about 24%.”
However, this screening is recommended only for patients who meet certain criteria that put them at high risk for lung cancer. Sharp offers a free online risk assessment for patients to determine if they meet screening criteria.
There are three major types of lung cancer — small cell, non-small cell, and lung carcinoid tumors. Signs and symptoms include:
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse
- Shortness of breath
- New onset of wheezing
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
“Smoking is responsible for up to 90% of all lung cancers, and the best way to reduce your risk is to stop smoking,” advises Dr. Chen. “The CT screening is not difficult nor painful — it’s a modified CAT scan that’s literally over in a few seconds. But those few seconds can mean the world to those who are at risk for lung cancer.”
If you feel you may be at risk for lung cancer, contact your primary care doctor. Sharp HealthCare offers lung cancer screening options across San Diego County for patients who qualify.