Healthbeat: Lowering the number of lung cancer deaths

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EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — When you think about cancer deaths, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer may come to mind. But lung cancer claims more lives than all of those cancers combined.

It’s why November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society estimates lung cancer this year will claim nearly 132,000 lives in the U.S. But a medical expert tells Eyewitness News there are two keys to prevent such devastating statistics.

If you think lung cancer is just a smoker’s disease, think again.

“You have people who have never smoked cigarettes who are not having lung cancer top-of-mind because they think it can only occur in individuals who smoke and that’s really not the case,” National Lung Cancer Roundtable, ACR Lung Cancer Screening Registry Chairperson Ella Kazerooni said.

The National Lung Cancer Roundtable reports 20 percent of lung cancer cases are people who’ve never smoked and 65 percent are former smokers or have no history of tobacco use. Dr. Kazerooni says it all contributes to high rates of lung cancer deaths.

“The symptoms, unfortunately, of lung cancer can mimic other pulmonary conditions like pneumonia, respiratory infection, things that people are used to,” Dr. Kazerooni said.

But another significant barrier, she says, is stigma often found in society, considering the disease as something self-inflicted.

“And unfortunately, the stigma with lung cancer prevents people from coming forward for care. It prevents people from sticking with their care and it can lead to worse outcomes,” Dr. Kazerooni said.

So how do we curb so many deadly cases? For starters, annual screening for former smokers ages 50 to 80 before any symptoms occur.

“These chest CT scans that are very low radiation exposure, we can find little spots on the lung that are the earliest evidence of lung cancer when it’s more curable,” Dr. Kazerooni said.

If the diagnosis is advanced stage lung cancer, Dr. Kazerooni points to much better treatment to give patients a much better fighting chance.

“There are things that we can look for on tumor cells called biomarkers and if we identify those in a lung cancer, we can recommend an increasing number of advanced targeted therapies that directly target that specific kind of lung cancer and these are making significant improvements and life expectancy for individuals with advanced stage lung cancer,” Dr. Kazerooni said.

No longer the imminent death sentence lung cancer once was thanks to what Dr. Kazerooni considers the two keys.

“Through early detection and advanced biomarker-based therapies, we’re making a world of change in lung cancer survival,” Dr. Kazerooni said.

Private insurance and Medicare cover annual lung cancer exams for those who meet the age and smoking-history requirements.

For valuable resources for National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, please visit www.cancer.org.

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