A simple screening — covered by most insurance —can diagnose lung cancer early, when it’s still treatable
Kentucky has the country’s highest rate of lung cancer — one of the deadliest types of cancer. Still, many who are at risk don’t get a lung cancer screening that could catch the disease at an early stage, when the best options for treatment are available.
With relatively few people getting lung cancer screenings, more than half of those who develop lung cancer don’t find out they have the disease until it’s spread to other parts of the body.
“The awareness for lung cancer screenings is not at the level of other cancers,” said George J. Mikos, M.D., thoracic surgeon with Norton Cardiothoracic Surgery. “This simple screening has the ability to completely shift the curve of how quickly we can diagnose lung cancer at early stages, when it is more treatable.”
According to the American Lung Association, more than 5,000 people in Kentucky were expected to get a lung cancer diagnosis in 2018, and 3,530 were expected to die from it. Kentucky’s lung cancer rate — 96.8 for each 100,000 people — is our nation’s worst.
The American Lung Association cites smoking, exposure to radon gas, air pollution and secondhand smoke as lung cancer risk factors. Of these, smoking poses the greatest risk.
The association reports that if lung cancer is caught early, 55 percent of patients will survive five years or more. That’s up from 11 percent for diagnoses at more advanced stages.
“Most patients with lung cancer were diagnosed at an advanced stage, when they started to show symptoms. These screenings are absolutely revolutionary,” Dr. Mikos said.
What you need to know about lung cancer screening
Norton Cancer Institute’s Comprehensive Lung Center uses high-speed, low-dose computed tomography (CT) scanning, which can detect even the tiniest tumors. Screening scans are painless, noninvasive and fast. They are available for individuals at high risk for developing lung cancer. You may be a candidate if you:
- Are age 55 to 74
- Are a current smoker
- Smoked one or more packs a day for 30 or more years
- Have a family history of lung cancer
- Have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer
Most insurance companies cover the cost of a lung cancer screening. Medicare Part B also generally covers the screenings for those who meet the criteria above.
Since its launch in 2016, the Comprehensive Lung Center has done more than 2,000 baseline lung cancer screenings a year. Once a baseline is established, it’s recommended for patients to return for an annual follow-up.
The center combines screening, diagnosis and treatment to make sure each patient has access to state-of-the-art lung cancer care and support services.
It also incorporates access to smoking cessation resources. Naturally, never smoking is the best health practice and largely helps prevent lung cancer, but for those who smoke and want to quit, help is available.
Lung cancer screenings
If you think you could be at risk for lung cancer, don’t wait.
Lung cancer symptoms
Typically, lung cancer symptoms do not show up until the disease has advanced. Lung cancer symptoms may include:
- Coughing up blood
- Lung infections (bronchitis or pneumonia) that won’t go away or keep coming back
- Cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse
- Chest pain that often is worse when deep breathing, coughing or laughing
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak