According to Dr. Donald Lazarus, an assistant professor of medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, “lung cancer is not the most common cancer but it is the most likely to be lethal. Lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined.” Finding causes of lung cancer and developing screening protocols has become extremely important. However, there is more data available this year that demonstrates a benefit to screening particularly in high-risk individuals that may contribute to a decrease in mortalities.
The high risk population includes individuals who have a history of 30 pack-years or greater and running between the ages of 55 to 79. Thirty pack-years refers to smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for thirty years. This also includes smoking 2 packs a day for 15 years. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society support screening in this population with a low dose CT (computed tomography) scan.
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Lazarus notes, if you have a screening that is positive, make sure to see an expert (pulmonologist or medical oncologist) so that you can move forward with proper treatment of the disease. Treatment depends on where the nodule is, its shape and how easy it is to biopsy. Your initial treatment may involve a follow-up to note any changes or determine if you have a false positive. Early diagnosis could prevent spread of the cancer and possible death. Keep in mind that smoking accounts for the greatest risk of lung cancer, however 10-15 percent of patients with lung cancer do not smoke.
There are a number of risk factors such as occupational and environmental exposures that can increase the risk of lung cancer. These include radiation exposure (i.e. radon gas), asbestos, heavy metal, second-hand smoke, arsenic and tar. As November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, this is an opportune time to increase awareness about one of the most deadly forms of cancer.