Treating early-stage lung cancer has become more successful in the last few years, and that’s due to screening tests.
“A lung screening exam is one of the easiest screening tests a patient can undergo,” said Dr. Andrea McKee, a radiation oncologist and director of the CT Lung Screening Program at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a time to reflect on what was once known as the “silent killer.” With early detection screening programs, this is changing.
“We are looking for very, very small lung cancers,” Dr. McKee said. “We are also looking for lung cancers, in general, but ideally we find them when they are very small because they’re highly curable when they’re small.
Screening for lung cancer with annual low-dose CT scans among those at high risk can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20 percent by detecting tumors at early stages when they are more likely to be curable, according to the American Lung Association.
High-risk is defined as:
- 55-80 years of age
- Have a 30 pack-year history of smoking (this means 1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc.)
- And are a current smoker, or have quit within the last 15 years
Currently, screening rates are low among those at high risk. Massachusetts has the highest rate of screening in the nation with 12.3 percent of high-risk people getting tested. By comparison, the national average is 4 percent.
This may be attributed to low awareness and knowledge among patients and providers.
“Screening is new so lung cancer has previously presented as late stage,” Dr. McKee explained. It’s silent until you have symptoms, and once you have symptoms, it’s at a stage when you can’t necessarily cure the disease.”
Some people are afraid to get screened. But screening is the key to detect this cancer earlier than in the past.
“We have to get that message out there, that lung cancer is highly curable,” Dr. McKee said.
For more information on lung cancer screening, speak with your health care provider.