Lung cancer? We see it everyday at Turville Bay and treating it can be a huge challenge. Lung cancer is a silent threat to those that use or have used tobacco, to those exposed to radon in the home, and those exposed to asbestos and certain metals in the workplace. The good news?
- We know to use the protective gear provided in the workplace and it’s proven to save lives.
- We know that radon is present in soils containing uranium like ours here in central Wisconsin. (Perhaps this blog will serve as a reminder to have the air checked in your home as it can change over time and consider mitigation if the radon level is high.)
- And, we know that tobacco use presents the biggest threat to our health.
Why do I call lung cancer a silent threat? Because the lack of symptoms allows it to grow unchecked often until it threatens our very existence. Lung cancer takes more lives each year than colon, prostate and breast cancer combined even though it’s treatable. Why?
Screening for lung cancer was not based on science. X-rays and sputum tests could be requested by a patient but were not reliable. Screening had no real guidelines and that meant that many patients were symptomatic by the time they were diagnosed. We’d much rather treat them earlier, before symptoms occur, because we have a better chance of a good outcome. But we needed a screening tool that worked.
There is good news. A study that had been underway since 2001 involving thousands of individuals produced compelling data. It found that heavy tobacco users who got low-dose CT scans had a 20% lower chance of dying from lung cancer than those who got chest X-rays. The evidence was so powerful that Medicare, Medicaid and many insurance companies now cover annual low-dose CT screening for those that meet certain criteria:
- Adults aged 55-80
- Having smoked a pack a day for 30 years or the equivalent, such as 2 packs a day for 15 years
- Currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years
- Have a physician’s order requesting the screening
No, these screening guidelines are not going to solve the problem of lung cancer. But it’s a good start. My message? If you meet the criteria consider screening. It could save your life. Take control over your health. Quit tobacco and embrace a healthy lifestyle. You’ll breathe easier. Actually we all will.