5 things you should know about lung cancer even if you don’t smoke
Lung cancer is the deadliest type of cancer, taking more lives every year than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect time to learn more about the disease. Here are five things that everyone should know:
1. You don’t have to smoke to get lung cancer.
Although smoking is far and away the leading cause of lung cancer, non-smokers get the disease, too.
In fact, close to 20 percent of people who die from the disease didn’t smoke or use tobacco. Other factors, including radon exposure, exposure to secondhand smoke and genetic mutations, can all cause non-smokers to get lung cancer.
2. Lung cancer often has no symptoms …
Part of what makes lung cancer so deadly is its lack of symptoms. In many cases, symptoms don’t appear until the disease has advanced, often to an incurable stage.
Unfortunately, many common symptoms of lung cancer – such as a persistent cough, hoarseness, shortness of breath and chest pain – can be mistaken for other health problems, which further delays diagnosis.
3. … Which is why screening is so important.
When early-stage lung cancer is detected, a patient’s chance of survival can be as high as 70 percent.
That’s why the UK Markey Cancer Center created the Lung Cancer Screening Program, which offers low-dose CT screenings for patients who are at a high risk of developing lung cancer. Screenings are recommended for patients who:
- Are ages 55-80.
- Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
- Have a 30 pack-year smoking history, meaning the patient smokes one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years, or two packs per day for 15 years.
- Have no current symptoms of lung cancer.
A lung cancer screening CT scan can detect cancer before symptoms are noticeable and at an early stage. When we find cancer at an early stage, many treatment options are available, which greatly improves the likelihood of survival.
Lung cancer screening does carry risks, including low-dose exposure to radiation and the possibility of more invasive follow-up tests. For that reason, only patients at a high risk for the disease who meet the criteria above should be screened.
4. Lung cancer hits hardest in Kentucky.
It’s a No. 1 ranking we’re not proud of in Kentucky: Our state leads the nation in lung cancer incidence and mortality.
Unsurprisingly, Kentucky also has the highest percentage of smokers in the country, with more than a quarter of residents age 18 or older reporting a smoking habit.
If you’re a smoker, you probably already know it’s a good idea to quit. Here are some tips for finally conquering your addiction.
5. Lung cancer treatment is getting better
One of the most promising recent developments in lung cancer treatment is the use of precision medicine to treat the disease. Precision medicine targets specific mutations in a person’s tumor, which leads to more effective treatment with fewer side effects.
Precision medicine treatments are available at the nation’s top cancer centers, where teams of cancer experts can come together to assess individuals’ genetic attributes and make treatment recommendations tailored to each person.
The UK Markey Cancer Center recently launched its own Molecular Tumor Board, which brings these precision medicine options to patients across Kentucky. Even better for patients with lung cancer is that they can be seen by the tumor board right after their initial diagnosis.