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Learn Your Risk for Lung Cancer

11-14-2019

Every day, about 200,000 people are diagnosed and 150,000 people die from lung cancer. It kills almost twice as many women as breast cancer. In fact, it’s been the #1 cancer killer of women since 1987.

These statistics are scary, but many lung cancers can be prevented by quitting smoking or reducing exposure to secondhand smoke. Less often, lung cancer is related to radon exposure or other environmental factors. However, some lung cancers occur in people without any known risk factors, and it isn’t clear whether these cancers can be prevented.

Commonly, most lung cancers do not cause any symptoms until they have spread. It’s more difficult to treat once it’s found at a later stage. Thankfully, in recent years, doctors have found a test that can screen for lung cancer in high-risk patients. This test can detect lung cancer much earlier and reduce the patient’s risk of dying from the disease.

According to the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial, studies show that lung cancer deaths can be reduced by 20% when at-risk patients participate in a lung CT screening program. Locally, Frederick Health offers a screening program.

Are You at Risk for Lung Cancer?

You or your loved ones could be at risk for lung cancer if you’re regularly exposed to any of the following:

  • Air pollution is thought to increase the risk of lung cancer, although the risk is much lower than smoking.
  • Asbestos. Working in mines, mills, textile plants, shipyards, and places where insulation is used increases exposure to asbestos, and risk of both lung cancer and mesothelioma.
  • Previous radiation therapy to the chest increases your risk for lung cancer, especially if you’re a smoker.
  • Radon. While radon is a naturally occurring gas, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer, responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Breathing in radon exposes your lungs to small amounts of radiation. There isn’t much radon outdoors, but homes and other buildings can have high radon levels, especially in basements and older homes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends testing all homes for radon and fixing homes if their levels are higher than 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). According to the Maryland Department of Health data, some areas in Frederick County average 10 pCI/L or higher. If you don’t know your home’s radon level, consider getting a radon test or speaking to your landlord about radon testing if you rent your property.
  • Tobacco. Smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. Eighty to 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking. Cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoking all increase lung cancer risk. Men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer and women 13 times more likely than non-smokers. Secondhand smoke can also increase your risk—it causes more than 7,330 lung cancer deaths every year.

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • A cough that won’t go away or gets worse
  • Chest pain that gets worse with deep breaths, coughing, or laughing
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored spit or phlegm
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Hoarseness
  • Infections like bronchitis or pneumonia that keep coming back or won’t go away
  • New onset of wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite

If lung cancer spreads to other organs, it can cause:

  • Bone pain, including in areas like the back or hips.
  • Lumps near the surface of the body if the cancer has spread to the skin or lymph nodes.
  • Nervous system changes, such as headaches, dizziness, problems with balance, or seizures if it has spread to the brain or spinal cord.
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes if the cancer has spread to the liver.

If you or your loved one have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor immediately. The sooner lung cancer is found, the sooner it can be treated.

How Can You Prevent Lung Cancer?

While not all lung cancers can be prevented, there are things you can do to lower your risk.

Do You Qualify for Frederick Health’s Lung Cancer Screening Program?

We offer a Low-Dose Lung CT Screening program to identify individuals with an increased risk of lung cancer. This helps your healthcare team develop the best care based on your results. This test is free for eligible patients; the Affordable Care Act requires that all insurers cover approved screening programs at no cost to the patient. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force approved Low-Dose Lung CT Screening in 2014.

You and your primary care physician will each receive a copy of the results and recommendations based on your screening. Our multidisciplinary team of radiologists and thoracic surgeons will review all positive CT lung scans.

The screening test is performed with a low-dose spiral CT. The scanner rotates around your body while you lie still on a table that passes through the center of the scanner. This scan provides detailed images of the inside of your body. A computer that combines x-ray images taken from various angles makes the images. It can be performed with one short breath-hold and takes approximately 7-15 seconds.

If abnormal results are found, your primary care physician will discuss them with you and a plan of action. If a doctor finds something suspicious, more tests and treatments may be recommended.

You are eligible for the Frederick Health Lung Cancer Screening program if you are:

  • A current or former smoker who has quit within the last 15 years
  • A current or former tobacco smoker who smoked at least 30 pack years. (To calculate pack years, multiply the number of packs you smoked per day by the number of years you smoked. For example, one pack a day x 30 years=30 pack years. Two packs a day x 15 years=30 pack years.)
  • Asymptomatic or show no symptoms of lung cancer
  • Between 55-77 years old

You are not eligible to participate in the screening program if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Unintentional weight loss
To learn more about our lung CT cancer screening program, visit this page or call 301-694-LUNG (5864) to schedule your screening.