As we move through Lung Cancer Awareness Month this November, it is a good time to get a sense of what you should know about your risks, how and when to seek screening and learn about the comprehensive services offered by the teams at Inova.
Smokers and Non-Smokers Are at Risk
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. One in every 16 men and one in every 17 women will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime. While it’s widely understood that smoking significantly increases the risk of lung cancer, Inova’s Medical Director of Interventional Pulmonology, Dr. Amit “Bobby” Mahajan, notes that there has been a growing incidence of lung cancer in people who have never smoked.
Beyond smoking, various risk factors contribute to this increase, such as exposure to radon gas, secondhand smoke, air pollution, and occupational chemicals. Genetic predisposition also can play a role in the development of lung cancer.
Understanding the diverse array of risk factors in both smokers and nonsmokers is crucial in knowing who should be screened for lung cancer and when.
Since 2006, the number of new cases has been going down annually, thanks to early detection through screening and advanced medical procedures.
Screening Guidelines for Lung Cancer
Lung cancer screening provides hope for identifying lung cancer early. In fact, effective use of lung cancer screening has proven to reduce death related to lung cancer by 20 percent. Screening is simple and entails a low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT) scan. In 2021, new data led to extensively revised guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that almost doubled the number of Americans eligible for screening, including more women and African Americans. Inova’s Lung Cancer Screening program is designed to detect cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage, using LDCT screening in accordance with USPSTF guidelines. Annual lung cancer screening is recommended for the following people:
- Adults who have smoked the equivalent of 20 “pack years” (one pack a day for 20 years);
- Current smokers for those who have stopped smoking within the past 15 years;
- Those between ages 50 and 80 years old.
Furthermore, the American Cancer Society has recommended new guidelines increasing the age of screening from 50 to 80 years old. These guidelines will likely be implemented in the next year.
The Inova Saville Cancer Screening and Prevention Center offers risk assessments, screening and prevention resources.
Lowering Your Risk Factors for Lung Cancer
While you may not be able to prevent lung cancer, there are ways that you may be able to lower your risk:
- Do not smoke! If you are a smoker, make plans to quit immediately. There are many options to help you succeed in quitting. You can reach out to your healthcare provider to discuss what may work best for you.
- Avoid secondhand smoke.
- Test your home for radon and limit exposure if necessary.
- Limit exposure to chemicals such as diesel exhaust and asbestos.
- Eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables.
Comprehensive and Innovative Lung Cancer Care at Inova
Following a screening, should cancer be detected, a multidisciplinary team of board certified interventional pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons and thoracic medical and radiation oncologists work hand-in-hand to coordinate and manage your care. Inova patients have access to advanced medical technology including robotic-assisted bronchoscopy and endobronchial ultrasound, cutting-edge clinical trials, and world-class surgeons who regularly perform complex thoracic surgeries. Inova offers comprehensive, minimally invasive diagnostic and treatment options for lung cancer patients. In some cases, it is possible for patients to be diagnosed and treated for lung cancer in one day.
Robotic-assisted bronchoscopy, which uses a tiny camera on a tube that explores air passages and sends pictures to a video, is a crucial part of screening. Inova’s team uses one of the newest and most advanced bronchoscopy suites in the U.S. complete with advanced imaging. This procedure is minimally invasive so there is no cutting. It is all done with bronchoscopic cameras.
Inova’s team also uses endobronchial ultrasound. EBUS uses a flexible tube with a video camera to take a closer look at your lungs to biopsy lung nodules and lymph nodes within the chest. Doctors can then perform a biopsy — testing pieces of tissue — and other tests to diagnose lung cancers in the early stages and treat other benign chest diseases.
The goal of lung cancer screening is to save lives. If a patient is at a higher risk of developing lung cancer, LDCT screening may detect early lung cancer before symptoms appear and help lower the patient’s risk of death.
Feature image by utah51/stock.adobe.com
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