You’re probably not shocked to hear that smoking is the top cause of lung cancer. But you may not know that only 2 percent of smokers and former smokers get lung cancer screenings.
Coming from a long line of tobacco farmers, I have seen many family members suffer from chronic lung disease and lung cancer. It’s part of what led me to become a pulmonologist. As health care continues to advance, we are seeing more treatment options for lung disease and even more importantly, better ways to detect lung cancer before it’s too late.
Early detection can literally save your life, but only 16 percent of patients are diagnosed at an early stage. If lung cancer is caught at stage 1, the survival rate is close to 90 percent. Cure rates decrease to 40 to 50 percent if detected at stage 2 and go down to 25 percent at stage 3. Lung cancers detected at stage 4 are not curable, but treatment can often prolong life.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to detect lung cancer in its early stages on your own. People don’t usually suspect anything is wrong until stage 4, when they may notice chest pain, coughing up blood, wheezing and shortness of breath. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Until now, screening tests for lung cancer were not very accurate. Chest X-rays were commonly used, but did not detect small tumors or enlarged lymph nodes, which can be a sign of cancer.
The solution, recommended by the National Institute of Health, is a low-dose lung cancer CT screening, which is available at all Baptist Health hospitals. The screening emits low levels of radiation, is non-invasive and only takes about two minutes to complete. Results are usually available within 24 hours.
When you consider that lung cancer is the No. 1 killer among all other cancers combined, getting a quick and CT screening makes good sense if you are at high risk of lung cancer. The screening is covered by Medicaid and Medicare and many insurance plans for people who meet the following criteria of being long-term, high-risk heavy smokers or former smokers:
- People between 55 and 77 years old.
- Those who have a 30 pack-year history of smoking or more (this means 1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc).
- Those who are current smokers or have quit within the last 15 years.
If you meet these guidelines or you’re concerned about your lung cancer risk, you can learn more at baptistjax.com/lungscreening.