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Catching Lung Cancer Early: A Life-Saving Scanner

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FLORIDA - BACKGROUND:  Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States in men and women, but it is also one of the most preventable.  Four out of five cases are associated with cigarette smoking and the cause-effect relationship has been historically documented.  In the 1920s, large numbers of men started smoking cigarettes.  Twenty years later, the number of lung cancer patients in men increased extensively.  In the 1940s, women began to smoke.  Twenty years later, there was a similar increase in lung cancer in women.  (Source: www.webmd.com)

 

CAUSES:  Tumors in the lungs usually start in the spongy, pinkish gray walls of the bronchi airways.  There are twenty types of cancerous tumors that start in the lung itself.   Close to 85% of lung cancer is caused by smoking.  People who smoke one pack of cigarettes a day are 20 times more likely than a nonsmoker to develop lung cancer.  Secondhand smoke is also deadly.  Approximately 3,000 people die each year from lung cancer associated with secondhand smoke. Other cancerous substances can cause lung cancer if inhaled over time.  For example, workers exposed to uranium dust, asbestos, or radioactive gas radon are more likely to develop cancer. However, it can also depend on each person’s genetics.  Lung cancer can run in some families, therefor, suggesting that it can be inherited.  Certain genetic traits have been identified that make people more likely than others to cancerous substances like tobacco.  (Source: www.webmd.com)

 

DIAGNOSIS:  Once lung cancer begins to cause symptoms, it is usually visible through an X-ray. However, According to the American Cancer Society, saliva, music, and chest X-rays are not proved particularly effective in detecting small tumors.  Annual chest X-rays are not recommended.   On occasion mucus and lung fluid exams can reveal fully developed cancer cells; diagnosis is usually confirmed through a lung biopsy.  If the biopsy confirms lung cancer, other tests will determine the type of cancer.  If fluid is in the lining of the lung, then the doctor can remove the fluid through a needle (thoracentesis) and it could help to diagnose cancer.  Sixty percent of the time the fluid tests negative, but if it is positive then a procedure called video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery may also be administered to examine the lung for tumors.  Sometimes a CT scan of the chest can be performed for a more detailed exam.  There have been clinical trials to study screening through a CT scan.  In one study, over 31,000 people were screened with a CT scan and 1.5% (484 people) discovered they had lung cancer.  CT scan screening does, however, increase the risk of radiation exposure and development of radiation related cancers.  Also there is a high incidence of false positive results. (Source: www.webmd.com)

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  CT scanning has been questionable for some researchers, but a low-dose CT scan has revamped the idea.  Several observational studies have shown that low-dose CT scans of the lung detects more nodules and lung cancers, including early-stage cancers, than chest radiography does.  The National Cancer Institute funded the National Lung Screening Trial to determine if low-dose CT screening compared to chest radiography would reduce mortality from lung cancer among people in a high risk category.  In 2010, the study found that there was a significant reduction with low-dose CT screening in the rates of death from lung cancer and death from any cause.  (Source: New England Journal of Medicine) Patients who benefitted had the following characteristics:  they were between the ages of 55 and 74, current smokers or quit within the last 15 years, and they smoked 30 or more packs a year.  There is a high likelihood that the screening exam will not be a covered benefit of insurance companies. The out-of-pocket cost for the CT screen is $300. (Source: www.seattlecca.org