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Lung cancer: A silent threat

Consider getting screened. It could save your life.

Lung cancer takes more lives each year than colon, prostate and breast cancer combined. SSM Health Dr. James Richardson explains how the third most common cancer in the United States is a “silent threat” and how it can be prevented.
Lung cancer is a silent threat to those that use or have used tobacco, to those exposed to radon in the home, and those exposed to asbestos and certain metals in the workplace. The good news?

  1. We know to use the protective gear provided in the workplace and it’s proven to save lives.
  2. We know that radon is present in soils containing uranium.
  3. Perhaps this blog will serve as a reminder to have the air checked in your home as it can change over time. Consider mitigation if the radon level is high.
  4. And, we know that tobacco use presents the biggest threat to our health.
Yet it’s the lack of symptoms allows the lung cancer to grow unchecked often until it threatens our very existence.

In fact, screening for lung cancer wasn’t always reliable. Screening had no real guidelines which meant many patients were symptomatic by the time they were diagnosed. Providers would much rather treat patients earlier, before symptoms occur, because they then have a better chance of a good outcome. However, a reliable screening tool was needed.
The breakthrough came via a study that had been underway since 2001 involving thousands of individuals. It produced compelling data. It found heavy tobacco users who received low-dose CT scans had a 20 percent lower chance of dying from lung cancer than those who got chest X-rays. The evidence was so powerful that Medicare, Medicaid and many insurance companies now cover annual low-dose CT screening for those who meet a certain criteria:
  • Adults aged 55-80
  • Having smoked a pack a day for 30 years or the equivalent, such as 2 packs a day for 15 years
  • Currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years
  • Have a physician’s order requesting the screening
These screening guidelines are not going to completely solve the problem of lung cancer, but it’s a good start. If you meet the criteria, consider screening. It could save your life.  Take control over your health. Quit tobacco and embrace a healthy lifestyle. You’ll breathe easier. Actually -- we all will.

Know your lung cancer risk. Take our Lung Cancer Health Risk Assessment and discuss your results with your doctor.

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