According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women in the United States, and as many as 90 percent of those deaths are caused by smoking. New Jersey is especially affected by lung cancer, with rates above the national average. For those of us in the lower half of the state, we are more likely to die of lung cancer than our northern counterparts.
Why is Lung Cancer So Deadly?
Lung cancer is so deadly for several reasons. One, early stage lung cancer does not have any symptoms so it is usually not discovered until it is too far advanced to treat. Two, many smokers with later stage lung cancer will brush off lung cancer symptoms like chronic coughing, wheezing and chest pain as side effects of smoking, which can delay diagnosis. Three, when patients do go to the emergency room for respiratory problems and receive a chest x-ray, the x-ray usually won’t pick up early stage lung cancer.
How Can Lung Cancer be Detected Early?
While the best way to prevent lung cancer is to never start smoking, or to quit as soon as possible, all hope is not lost for those who are or have been heavy smokers. A large medical trial known as the National Lung Screening Trial demonstrated that those who received an annual Low Dose CT (LDCT) screening for lung cancer had a 20 percent lower chance of dying from the disease than those who got chest x-rays. As a result of this study, leading expert groups, including the American Cancer Society, have recommended annual screening for this targeted population. In February 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it would cover this type of screening for people who meet the following criteria:
- Between the ages of 55 and 77
- No signs or symptoms of lung cancer
- Have smoked one pack a day for 30 years
- Current smoker or has quit within the last 15 years
Should You Get a Low Dose CT Scan?
Once you have determined you meet the requirements listed above, you should talk with your physician about whether a LDCT scan is right for you. There are many pros and cons to weigh when deciding whether to move forward with a LDCT. That’s why those who are eligible are required to have a pre-screening consultation with an appropriate physician.
On Saturday, Nov. 11, Shore Medical Center, in partnership with the Cape Atlantic Coalition for Health, will offer free 20-minute LDCT screening consultations with Shore Physicians Group internal medicine specialist Dr. William E. Hooper, Jr. Appointments are available between 8 am and noon.
“It’s very important to understand LDCT scans, what the results could find, and how we would proceed if something was detected. For example, LDCT scans often turn up ‘false positives’, which are benign lumps or nodes. In order to determine if the nodes are cancerous, a special biopsy of the lungs must be performed. Not everyone is a candidate for this biopsy for a number of reasons, and it’s important you are well-informed before you and your doctor decide that a LDCT scan is right for you,” says Dr. Hooper.
It’s important to note that a LDCT screening is NOT a substitution for quitting smoking. During the event at Shore, you will also learn about their Tobacco Prevention and Treatment Program.
To learn more and to schedule your free 20-minute consultation with Dr. Hooper, call 609-653-3992.