It’s time to get screened for lung cancer

We all know of a friend or family member who has been affected by cancer, which is why there is such an emphasis on screening and early detection for a variety of cancers. In 2013, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) implemented lung cancer screening recommendations for high-risk individuals. The USPSTF is an expert panel that releases evidence-based screening and preventative care guidelines which are followed by healthcare professionals nationally.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer and is the third leading cause of cancer after breast and prostate cancers. It takes the lives of approximately 160,000 Americans a year. In Iowa, it is to blame for one in four cancer deaths a year. A simple lung cancer screen can make the difference. This painless test takes five minutes and involves taking pictures of the lungs to look for spots that could represent cancer in its earliest stages before symptoms appear. Often, lung cancer is found in the late stages, usually when symptoms of cough, sometimes coughing up blood, chest pains, or shortness of breath appear. Although cancer treatment options have evolved over the last decade, lung cancer found in the late stages carries a poor prognosis and treatment options can be limited. In Iowa, our high levels of radon also cause a higher risk of lung cancer, especially in smokers which can increase the risk of lung cancer ten-fold. Therefore, early identification is key and can greatly improve survival rates. When found in early stages, the survival rate can be up to 80 percent and treatment often involves surgery or high-dose radiation treatments.

Over the last six years, Trinity Cancer Center has cared for nearly 200 patients with lung cancer. Of these 200 patients, over 60 percent presented with advanced stages of lung cancer. Lung cancer in an advanced stage means that it has spread to the lymph nodes, organs, or the bones of the body. Someone with advanced lung cancer has less than 10 percent chance of survival at five years, according to the American Cancer Society.

If you or a loved one is a current or former smoker between the ages of 55 to 80 and in overall good health, lung cancer screening may be for you. This screening tool is currently recommended by the USPSTF for those who have smoked for approximately 30 years or more. Annual screening with a low dose computed tomography (CAT) scan is recommended and has been proven to find cancer in its earlier stages better than a chest x-ray. Screening is no longer recommended in someone who has been smoke-free for 15 years. Talk to your primary care provider or lung specialist about the lung cancer screening — all it takes is a simple order for this affordable screen. Currently, UnityPoint Health –Trinity Regional Medical Center charges $95 dollars for lung cancer screening. In some instances, this may be covered by your insurance.

As always, avoidance of tobacco and smoking cessation are the best ways to prevent against lung cancer. Take advantage of this screening tool in our community and be your best advocate by asking your provider about lung cancer screening. This fast, simple test could provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind.

Christen Sewell is manager of Trinity Cancer Center. Jenny Condon is affiliated with UnityPoint Pulmonology.