Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but for nearly a decade doctors have had access to a screening tool that can detect it early for treatment.
Unfortunately, none of these facts have sunk in for many Americans, according to a new survey by the American Lung Association (ALA).
The survey found that only 29 percent of Americans know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and nearly 70 percent were unaware that low-dose computed tomography is available for early detection of the disease. .
Dr. Albert Rizzo, medical director of the ALA, said the two observations are closely related.
He said that by far the leading cause of death is the fact that it is usually diagnosed later than in the early stages because, unfortunately, lung cancer does not cause symptoms in the early stages. “If you don’t get screened, you’re not opening yourself up to the possibility of finding cancer at an early stage where it can be treated again and potentially cured.”
Today is World Lung Cancer Day, and the Lung Association released a survey to help spread the word that lung cancer screening is not only available, but free to the millions of people who are at high risk. , Rizzo said.
In 2013, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommended low-dose CT scans for lung cancer screening. Under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), insurers must cover screening tests recommended by the task force. And last year, it expanded screening eligibility guidelines.
About 14.2 million Americans qualify as being at high risk for lung cancer because they are between the ages of 50 and 80 and have a smoking history of 20 pack-years, multiplied by those years. is what someone has smoked. Day
But the ALA estimates that only 5% of eligible people are screened for lung cancer.
This may be because most people are not aware of their risk.
The survey found that only 40 percent of adults are concerned that they may develop lung cancer, and nearly 3 in 4 have not discussed their risk with their doctor.
One problem is that lung cancer screening is still relatively new, said Dr. Arif Kamal, chief patient officer of the American Cancer Society.
Most people don’t know that, and most doctors probably don’t know about the updated 2021 guidelines that expanded eligibility, he said.
Many people are reluctant to even talk about lung cancer, Kamal and Rizzo said, because they may feel guilty or ashamed that their own actions have put them at greater risk.
“We suspect that most Americans actually know someone who has had lung cancer or a family member who has been affected,” Kamal said. “But there’s a huge stigma associated with avoidable risk factors like smoking. And because of the social stigma attached to it, I think people are a little reluctant to talk about it. ”
Rizzo expanded on this.
“It’s not something that’s brought to a patient because they don’t want to be lectured about the fact that they’re still smoking,” he said.
“We know that addiction is very hard to break, and we don’t blame people for becoming addicted,” Rizzo said. “I think most people feel it’s self-inflicted because they can’t kick the habit, and it’s just a really bad attitude. In a way, it’s the same stigma that people have about their weight. I don’t want to talk about obesity.
Also, doctors are reluctant to bring up the subject during checkups because it can make patients defensive and agitated.
“It can become a difficult conversation, when something like colorectal or prostate cancer screening is not as closely related to a perceived negative behavior as smoking,” Kamal said.
Still, the conversation is worth having, Rizzo and Kamal said, because lung cancer is more treatable than ever.
Over the past 10 years, lung cancer survival rates have increased by more than 30 percent, but only 1 in 4 respondents knew that, according to the ALA.
Kamal said part of the improvement is due to screening efforts, which allow doctors to surgically remove smaller tumors and potentially treat cancer.
In addition, immunotherapy has overtaken chemotherapy as a first-line treatment. For lung cancer, he added.
Immunotherapy “stimulates the body’s own immune system to attack cancer,” Kamal said. “Cancer in the body basically wears a camouflage that hides from the body’s own immune system. New agents that have come out in the last five years are aimed at removing that camouflage so that the immune system can come in and attack it. could do.”
This type of therapy is much less harsh on the body. “Most people can still go to work. They don’t have significant nausea. They certainly don’t lose their hair,” Kamal said. Mal said.
There are more treatment options than a city can think of, he said.
“I think people worry that if they find something on a CT scan, ‘I’m going to have to have chemotherapy,'” Kamal said. “And that statement is not true for 90% of people. If we find something on a scan, there are many things that can be done that don’t involve chemotherapy.”
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