Each year, more than 220,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the U.S. – accounting for about 13% of new cancer cases. However, 7 of 10 who have been diagnosed with the disease will die from it, making it the most lethal form of cancer among both men and women. In fact, more people die from lung cancer each year than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined.
However, like all cancers, early diagnosis gives you the best possible chance of treating and surviving lung cancer – and that starts with knowing your risks and screening appropriately.
Should I Be Screened for Lung Cancer?
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, yearly lung cancer screening is recommended for people who:
- Have a history of heavy smoking*, and
- Are current smokers or have quit within the past 15 years, and
- Are between 55 and 80 years of age
* Smoking is measured in “pack years.” (Pack years = number of packs per day multiplied by years smoked.) A person is considered to be a heavy smoker if they have 30 pack years or more, which can be smoking one pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years. While this group is at the highest risk for developing lung cancer, other individuals who may consider screening include:
- Those who are former heavy smokers
- Those with a history of lung cancer
- Those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Those with a family history of lung cancer
- Those who have been exposed to asbestos
For those who are at increased risk, screening begins with a low-dose CT scan of the chest, which is available at Washington Hospital. National Lung Screening Trial results show that this screening can reduce your risk of dying from lung cancer by 15- 20%.
What if they find something?
First and foremost, don’t panic. Whether it’s breast cancer, colon cancer or lung cancer, screenings are intended to catch certain diseases before symptoms arise. These early stages are also the most treatable.
Then you’ll undergo a number of tests to help determine your next steps, which may include:
Tests to determine whether cancer is present. To confirm diagnosis, your doctor will want to rule out the possibility of other conditions. This may include a chest x-ray to look for abnormal masses, sputum cytology to look for cancerous cells in the sputum you cough up, or a biopsy of the tissue of any abnormal nodules.
Tests to determine what kind of cancer you have. Not all cancers behave the same way. Nor do they respond to treatment the same way. Knowing what kind of cancer we’re dealing with helps inform treatment options. This increases the effectiveness of therapies because it’s targeted toward a specific cancer mutation.
Tests to determine the extent of your cancer. Knowing to what extent cancer has affected the body is commonly indicated by Stages 0 through IV. Cancer that is limited to a lung is said to be at a lower stage than cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Where and how aggressive a cancer is helps better target therapies.
And finally, you’ll work with your oncologist to determine the best course of action. This can include surgery, radiosurgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted drug therapy.
You’re Not Alone
While a diagnosis may be just the start of your lung cancer journey, at Washington Hospital you can count on getting the care and support you need to beat it.
In addition to granting access to advanced treatments and therapies through the UCSF – Washington Cancer Center, we have a variety of support programs to help you learn about and better manage your disease. Certified by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR), our pulmonary rehabilitation program provides one-on-one counseling and support to patients suffering from a variety of lung conditions, including COPD, asthma, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer. In addition, the Better Breathing for Life Club, a free support group for people who suffer from chronic lung conditions and their families, meets on the fourth Wednesday of each month.