The recent deaths of “Saved by the Bell” star Dustin Diamond and conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh from lung cancer have put this deadly disease in the spotlight.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It claims about 130,000 lives each year.
Both Diamond and Limbaugh were diagnosed at stage 4, the latest stage, when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is more difficult to treat and cure. Lung cancer patients are often asymptomatic until the disease reaches a later stage, so how is it possible to catch lung cancer early?
Aakash Modi, MD, an interventional pulmonologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, said lung cancer screenings are an effective tool for diagnosing the disease at an early stage, which allows patients to be evaluated for thoracic surgery treatment before the cancer spreads.
Lung cancer screenings are low-dose CT scans, meaning they provide a clear image of the lungs with reduced radiation exposure. They are covered by Medicare and many insurance plans for people who meet the following criteria:
- Between 55 and 77 years old
- History of smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years
- Current smokers or those who have quit within the last 15 years
“We often hear about mammograms catching breast cancer early, but lung cancer screenings are equally important for people who meet these criteria,” Dr. Modi said. “When caught during stage 1, the cure rate for lung cancer is about 70%, while delaying a diagnosis makes the cancer much harder to treat.”
Dr. Modi, along with Thoracic Surgery chief Subrato Deb, MD, FACS and the rest of the thoracic oncology team at Baptist MD Anderson, have tools at their disposal to quickly and easily diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancers after a CT screening. Baptist MD Anderson is the first cancer center in North Florida to have a robot-assisted bronchoscope, which is used to reach cancers on the outside of the lungs and conduct biopsies on them.
“Many people may be hesitant to get screened because they fear the unknown and are afraid their screening may result in a cancer diagnosis,” Dr. Modi said. “However, being proactive and getting the screening done is much better than waiting for symptoms to appear. The earlier cancer is caught, the easier it is to treat and cure!”
If you would like to learn more about lung cancer screening at Baptist Health, please visit baptistjax.com/lungscreening to request an appointment with your primary care physician and discuss this further.