Did you know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and the second most common cancer overall? Lung cancer kills more people per year than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined.
In 2009, there were 519 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in Vermont and 374 individuals died from the disease. The most important risk factor is smoking to which 85 percent of lung cancers may be attributed. Although the number of people smoking has decreased in the US, nearly 37 percent of adults are current or former smokers. Quitting smoking may decrease the chances of getting lung cancer, but when compared to those who never smoked, that risk remains elevated for many years.
The incidence of lung cancer increases with age and occurs most commonly in individuals 55 years or older. Lung cancer has a poor prognosis: only 1 in 6 are alive 5 years after their diagnosis. The average 5-year survival rate is among the lowest of all types of cancer but can be improved when diagnosed at an early stage.
Quitting smoking or never starting is the most effective way to reduce your risk of lung cancer. For those smokers and former smokers at increased risk, there is now hope that earlier detection may improve the outcome from a lung cancer diagnosis. In December 2013, the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) released its first lung cancer screening recommendations supporting the use of CT screening for lung cancer. USPSTF recommends that individuals at high risk, such as those who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or an equivalent amount and who are between the ages of 55 and 80, receive a low-radiation dose CT scan each year to screen for the presence of asymptomatic lung cancer. These new guidelines may affect up to 10,000 individuals in the greater Chittenden Country area; however, not all may qualify. Screening is not recommended for individuals who are not healthy enough to undergo cancer treatment, or if they quit smoking more than 15 years ago.
USPSTF gives its new screening recommendations a “B” grade, which indicates that the benefits of the screening test outweigh the harm. CT-based lung cancer screening is also supported by the American Cancer Society and the American Thoracic Society. As with other screening tests, it is important to consider that there are risks of having false positive results, which may lead to additional testing.
the University of Vermont Medical Center is currently working on an integrated approach to screening and diagnosing early stage lung cancer with the low-radiation dose CT scans and it should be available to patients in the coming months. If you are at increased risk for lung cancer, it is important to speak with your doctor to discuss whether the screening test is right for you.
For information to help you quit smoking visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT- NOW.
Whitney Creed is a third-year medical student at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. She is currently doing her family medicine rotation at Colchester Family Practice where she is focusing on lung cancer screening as part of her community health project.