The biggest problem with lung cancer — the leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women — is that it doesn’t generate symptoms until it is advanced.
That’s partly because there is a lot of space in the lungs where a tumor can expand without causing symptoms.“It can be growing for more than a year, and the person really has very little symptoms or no symptoms until it is large enough to metastasize to other parts of the body,” said Dr. James Willey, lung cancer expert and UT professor of medicine.
This is why, during Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, Willey wants to make sure that people at risk for lung cancer are getting screened with a low-dose chest CT scan.
“We highly recommend that people who are 55 to 75 years of age with a heavy smoking history get this screening once a year,” Willey said. “This includes people who smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years and quit smoking less than 15 years ago. In addition, to qualify for screening, it is important that their overall health permits them to safely undergo surgical removal of the tumor.”
Willey said lung cancer screenings — a standard of care as determined by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — have been shown to reduce deaths from lung cancer by more than 20 percent. Medicare and Medicaid now are covering the cost of these screenings with private insurance companies expected to follow that example. Even without insurance coverage, the cost is only $99 at the Lung Nodule Clinic at UT Medical Center.
The screenings are offered at UTMC the first Tuesday of every month from 4 to 6 p.m. The visit includes immediate results and optional smoking cessation counseling. To make an appointment, call 419.383.3927.
For people who are screened and lung cancer is detected, it can be treated in 85 percent of cases. Willey hopes this will help with the stigma of lung cancer.
“Historically, lung cancer has had a bad reputation because without screening, it is advanced at the time of diagnosis and not curable in more than 85 percent of cases. Consequently, most people die within one to two years of diagnosis.”
Additionally, as part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Willey will present a lecture on these life-saving scans Thursday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m. in the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center at UTMC.
Willey has been funded for many years by the National Cancer Institute to conduct molecular genetic studies aimed at determining why some people are genetically predisposed to lung cancer. This is important because although tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer, about 20 percent of lung cancers occur in people who don’t smoke. He will discuss this at the lecture as well.
The free, public lecture is part of the Tie One On Awareness Lecture Series hosted by the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center. To reserve a spot, email firstname.lastname@example.org.