Fresh + Informative Health News

Smoking shame may delay cancer diagnosis

Forget about the stigma. If you’re at risk, consider a lung cancer screening.

Article Author: Beth Stambaugh

Article Date:

Man with cigarette hidden behind his back

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death among men and women, and cigarette smoking is the leading cause. However, according to the National Cancer Institute, only 4.5% of at-risk adults ages 55-80 had received a recent screening.

Don't delay getting screened for lung cancer

"Early detection of lung cancer is critical," 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%."

Cure rates decrease to 40-50% if detected at stage 2 and go down to 25% at stage 3. Lung cancers detected in stage 4 have a survival rate of 5%.

"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 about 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.

Non-smokers are still at risk for lung cancer

The same stigma exists for people with lung cancer who never smoked.

"Although smoking is the leading cause, about 10-20% of lung cancers occur in non-smokers," Dr. Vu said.

The second-leading risk factor for lung cancer is exposure to radon, a colorless, odorless gas that comes from uranium found in the soil. The United States Environmental Protection Agency sells radon testing kits to help determine if your home has dangerous 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 risk factor 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.

A low-dose CT scan is a lung screening option

Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center in Jacksonville has a lung cancer screening program that uses a low-dose CT scanner.

"This type of scan has a better chance of detecting lung cancer early than a standard chest X-ray does," Dr. Vu said.

According to Dr. Aakash Modi, MD, an interventional pulmonologist with Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, the screening is covered by Medicare and many insurance plans for people who meet the following criteria:

  • You are between 50 and 77 years old.
  • You have a 20-pack-year smoking history: smoking a pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years or two packs per day for 10 years.
  • You are a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years.

Schedule your lung cancer screening today

To see if a lung cancer screening is right for you, talk with your primary care physician or visit baptistjax.com/lungscreening.

Find a Primary Care doctor

Source: National Cancer Institute

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