National Lung Cancer Awareness month is November, and it’s also the perfect time to see how far we’ve come in the fight against the number one cancer killer of men and women.
The good news is that according to American Cancer Society (ACS) data, more than 430,000 people alive today have been diagnosed with lung cancer at some point, and National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports show that lung cancer rates overall are down nationally and in Arizona. NCI trends show that the overall mortality (death) rate for lung cancer (lung and bronchus) rose steadily through the 1980s, peaked in the early 1990s, and has been slowly declining since 2001. In Arizona, according to the NCI, the annual lung cancer mortality rate is 38.5 deaths per 100,000, a decline of 2.7 percent over the five-year period from 2008 to 2012. The number of newly diagnosed cases in Arizona (lung cancer incidence) has remained stable over the same five-year period.
A decrease in the number of people smoking is a major reason behind the drop in lung cancer rates, and since smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, it’s the best way to reduce the risk of ever getting lung cancer. Lung cancer risk may also be increased by exposure to secondhand smoke, environmental exposures such as radon, and from exposure to workplace toxins as well as to air pollution.
A major area of concern is the number of newly diagnosed cases of lung cancer among women, a rate that continues to increase, although at a slower rate than in previous years. Furthermore, the five-year lung cancer survival rate is virtually unchanged over the last several decades – with only about 15 percent of individuals diagnosed with cancer expected to live beyond five years.
The earlier cancer is detected, the earlier it can be treated, and low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) screening has recently proven highly effective at catching cancer in its earliest stages – much more effective than the traditional chest X-ray. According to the Lung Cancer Alliance, research shows that screening for lung cancer with LDCT is the only proven method for the early detection of lung cancer among high-risk individuals (current and former smokers with a 30-pack-year history of smoking).
Early screening with LDCT is becoming more common, and in 2014, Northern Arizona Radiology became one of the first centers in the region to offer CT lung screening for cancer. Lung cancer screening among high-risk individuals is on its way to becoming more accepted in the medical and insurance communities. For those who have made the healthy choice to quit smoking but remain at increased risk, LDCT gives them the peace of mind that they don’t have lung cancer or can find it early enough to treat it more effectively.
Remember in November: if you haven’t started smoking, don’t start. If you are a smoker, stop; it’s the most effective way to reduce your risk of getting lung cancer. If you’re a current or former smoker, talk with your health care provider about LDCT and the opportunity for the detection of lung cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages.