Some heavy smokers will never be stricken with lung cancer. On the other hand, it’s possible for some non-smokers to inexplicably develop this leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
So how do you know if you should be screened?
Smoking is by far the biggest risk factor, causing up to 85 percent of lung cancer in the United States, said Margaret Block, M.D., FACP, of Nebraska Cancer Specialists. That’s because smoke is a toxic mix of more than seven thousand chemicals, many of them poisonous.
The more cigarettes you smoked and the more years you smoked, the higher your degree of risk. Dr. Block said guidelines have been established by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network:
Research shows that with screening, cancer often can be diagnosed earlier. It can also be treated more successfully and even cured. Lung cancer found in its earliest stage is 80 percent curable. In recent years traditional chest x-rays have been replaced with low dose, low cost CAT scans. One study found a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer mortality when CAT scans were used. Unlike chest x-rays which produce flat two-dimensional images, CAT scans take a series of x-rays and break down images into “slices,” which give very detailed three-dimensional information about number and shape of spots or lung nodules.
- If you’re between 55 and 74, are a current or former smoker (who quit in the last 15 years) with a 30 pack year history (number of packs a day times the number of years of smoking), you’re considered high risk and should be tested.
- If you’re over the age of 50 with a 20 pack year history (number of packs a day times the number of years of smoking) and have an additional risk factor, such a history of lung cancer, a history of cancer in the family, occupational or radon exposure, you are also high risk.
Years of smoking are not only associated with lung cancer, but with many other illnesses and cancers, Dr. Block said. She urged consumers to do whatever it takes to quit—whether it’s hypnosis, medications, stop smoking patches or even quitting cold turkey.
She said quitting at any age can lower your risk of lung cancer. Her advice: if you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quit.
It’s easy to schedule a screening by calling 402-717-LUNG or visit the Lung Health Center web page. Not everyone qualifies--Alegent Creighton Health will help you determine if you qualify for a screening.
This article originally appeared in the Alegent Creighton Health enewsletter. Subscribe now and get the latest health and wellness information delivered to your inbox.