A Breath of Fresh Air

By Christian Dischler

How to beat lung cancer

This holiday season we’re all thankful to be approaching the end of 2020.  But for cancer, there is no downtime, and it’s important to stay ahead by keeping ourselves informed.  November is Lung Cancer Awareness month, and knowing your risk factors is paramount to beating cancer.  Dr. Scott Bermudez, an oncologist at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, discussed identifying cancer risk and how a recent medical advancement provides the best chance for survival: a low-dose CT scan (LDCT).

“With lung cancer, it’s rarely ever discovered at an early stage,” said Bermudez.  “If it’s picked up early stage, survival is well over 90 percent, but by the time you start showing symptoms it’s not early stage by definition, and that’s part of the reason that LDCT scans play such a role in detection.”

“Chest X-rays have never been shown to be useful for screenings,” Bermudez said, which only allow for detection of larger tumors.  The LDCT scan detects abnormalities much smaller.  This provides a huge advantage in surviving cancer because it opens up treatment options before the cancer has a chance to spread.  However, LDCT scans aren’t for everyone.

“LDCT scans use low-dose radiation, meaning less than a diagnostic CT scan.  But not everyone qualifies for that screening.  It’s only high risk patients, and there are strict definitions of who is considered high risk,” Bermudez explained.  “If you’re over 55 and a smoker of at least 30 pack years–defined as smoking one pack a day multiplied by how many years you’ve smoked–then you should consult your primary care physician to see if you qualify for a LDCT scan.”

Recognizing your own risk can sometimes be a confusing task.

“It can be difficult for patients to figure out exactly what risk category they’re in.  The key thing I would encourage people to do is discuss it with their primary care physician.  If they have that smoking history, and even if you aren’t 55-77, there’s wiggle room.  The key is to talk to your doctor.” Bermudez said.

Clear communication with your medical provider, smoking cessation and knowing the risks associated with lung cancer are integral assets to keeping you ahead of the cancer curve.  Combining this information with the early detection benefits of a LDCT scan will help you remain in the 95 percent of lung cancer survival.  For more information on lung cancer, risk categories and LDCT scans, visit MaryBird.org or NCCN.org. 

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