Smoking shame may delay cancer diagnosis
Forget about the stigma. If you’re at risk, consider a lung cancer screening.
Beth Stambaugh Published: 8/30/2018
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death among men and women, and smoking is the leading cause. However, only 5.9 percent of smokers and former smokers get lung cancer screenings, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
“Early detection is critical when it comes to lung cancer,” said John Vu, MD, a medical oncologist with Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center. “If it’s caught at stage 1, the survival rate is about 70 percent.” Cure rates decrease to 40 to 50 percent if detected in stage 2 and go down to 25 percent at stage 3. Lung cancers detected in stage 4 have a survival rate of 5 percent.
“Many smokers may not be aware that there is a lung cancer screening test,” Dr. Vu said. “And some smokers don’t want to be tested because it would mean giving up tobacco.”
Perhaps even more significant is the stigma between smoking and lung cancer. “Some smokers are ashamed and embarrassed and don’t want to learn that their bad habit may have caused them to have cancer. They feel that society views them as being responsible for their condition,” said Dr. Vu.
The same stigma exists for people with lung cancer who never smoked. “Although smoking is the leading cause, about 10 to 20 percent of lung cancers occur in non-smokers,” Dr. Vu said.
The second-leading cause is exposure to radon, a colorless, odorless gas that comes from uranium found in the soil. The EPA sells radon testing kits to determine if your home has dangerous radon levels.
The third-leading cause is second-hand smoke. About 7,000 people a year die from living or working with someone who smokes. Another cause is exposure to carcinogens in asbestos, diesel exhaust and air pollution. In rare cases, lung cancer can be caused by a gene mutation that causes changes in normal lung tissue. Previous radiation to the lungs and family history are also risk factors.
Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center in Jacksonville has a lung cancer screening program that uses a low-dose CT scanner. “A low-dose CT scan has a better chance of detecting lung cancer early than a standard chest X-ray does,” Dr. Vu said.
The screening is covered by Medicare and many insurance plans for people who meet the following criteria of being long-term, high-risk heavy smokers or former smokers:
- You are between 55 and 77 years old
- You have smoked a pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years or the equivalent (unless you quit smoking more than 15 years ago).
- You are a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years.
To see if a lung cancer screening is right for you, talk with your primary care physician or visit baptistjax.com/lungscreening.