With lung cancer, there are a variety of symptoms that patients might experience. These include shortness of breath, a cough (generating blood in some cases), and weight loss. Some lung cancer patients present with pneumonia but their symptoms persist after treatment with antibiotics due to lung cancer.
If lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body, a patient can have symptoms in those locations — such as pain in a certain part of the body. Additionally, other symptoms might appear. For example, the patient might start having headaches, balance issues or a loss of energy.
One of the ways to reduce the mortality of lung cancer is to do screenings. Currently, low-dose CAT or CT scans are used for this and can reduce the mortality rate by 20 percent.
However, not everyone qualifies for lung cancer screening and the criteria are evolving. But, for now, if you’re between 50 and 80 and have smoked a pack a day for 20 years or more [or two packs a day for 10 years]— even if you’ve quit smoking within the past 15 years — you may qualify for screening. It’s important to ask your doctor if you meet the criteria because, with screening, we’re able to detect more lung cancers at Stage I. This leads to more successful treatment with surgery or radiation.
Unfortunately, only a small percentage of qualifying patients get a CT scan screening for lung cancer. Sometimes it’s because they aren’t aware that they qualify. In other cases, it’s due to a lack of access, the potential cost of the scan [if not covered by Medicare or private insurance], or the stigma around smoking.
There’s a certain amount of shame when it comes to talking about lung cancer because patients know they shouldn’t be smoking. Most patients have tried to stop smoking many times. But patients should realize that there is absolutely no shame in seeking screening. We want them to talk with us about it. My job isn’t to judge people. I don’t believe anyone deserves to be sick or to suffer. Instead, we need to help them.
Another important thing for patients to know about a lung cancer screening is that it’s not a one-time test. Instead, depending on the results of their initial CT scan, they’ll be put on a schedule for future screenings. We also talk with our patients about smoking cessation programs if they’re interested.
Smoking is the No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer — not just cigarettes, but cigars and pipes, too. It’s also important to be cautious about vaping.
Exposure to second-hand smoke is a risk factor. And so is exposure to radon. This is especially the case in Indiana.
Lung cancer is rarely genetic. However, it can happen in non-smokers. About 10 percent to 20 percent of lung cancer cases worldwide occur in people who have never smoked.