August 1 is Lung Cancer Awareness Day. Even now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more East Texans will die from lung cancer than the virus.
While not completely preventable, the risks of lung cancer can be reduced by not smoking. Even long-term smokers will see their risk of lung cancer decrease by quitting, no matter how long they have smoked.
The classic symptoms of lung cancer are shortness of breath, chronic cough (especially worsening from “usual”) and coughing up blood. However, early lung cancer often causes no symptoms at all.
Previously, there was little we could do to find lung cancer early, but now most insurers will cover a lung cancer screening CT for high-risk patients. A CT is a type of X-ray that looks at the lungs in more detail than a simple chest X-ray and can detect very small lung cancers before they cause symptoms. Not everyone needs this CT, so check with your primary care doctor or pulmonologist to see if you should get this test. High-risk patients are typically those with an extensive smoking history.
While not everyone can be cured of this cancer, we have better treatments than ever for every stage of this illness. If it is caught early, it may be cured with surgery or radiation. Somewhat more advanced cases may still be cured with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation. The most advanced cases of lung cancer may not be curable, but we have many new and active treatment options for these patients, including pills or drugs that activate the immune system to fight the cancer.
The single most important thing anyone can do to reduce their odds of dying from lung cancer is to quit smoking. If you or a loved one is a smoker, make a commitment today to stop smoking and stick with it.
Information provided by Joseph T. Martins, MD, oncologist at UT Health East Texas HOPE Cancer Center. To schedule an appointment, call 903-592-6152.