Written by Jennifer Lanni, RN, Head/Neck & Lung Navigator
November, a month when many of us are getting into the holiday spirit, choosing that “perfect” gift, or getting holiday cards in the mail, is the month set aside for raising lung cancer awareness. Although there have been great advances in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer, it remains the most deadly of all cancers and causes more deaths in the United States each year than breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined.
Lung cancer is a very common cancer; however, there is still a stigma associated with the diagnosis of lung cancer. “He did it to himself” and “if you didn’t smoke those cigarettes, you wouldn’t be in this position” and similar attitudes continue to surround lung cancer. Despite data that proves about 15% of those diagnosed with lung cancer never smoked, feelings of guilt regarding smoking keep many from speaking to their physician about screening for lung cancer.
Lung cancer doesn’t come with a bump or lump that you can see or feel and doesn’t generally have signs or symptoms until it is very advanced. Fortunately, there is a quick and easy screening scan that can detect disease early. The low-dose CT scan for lung cancer screening is covered by most insurance plans if you meet screening guidelines:
- 55-77 years old
- Currently smoke or quit in the past 15 years
- Have a 30 “pack years” smoking history (pack years is the number of packs per day x the number of years)
- And have no symptoms of coughing up blood, new shortness of breath, or unexplained weight loss
The test requires no preparation, no dyes or injections and the scan itself takes less than a minute to complete.
So, why is screening so important? When you get screenings done regularly, you can detect disease in the earliest stage when it is highly treatable, and often curable! Many advances have been made in the way lung cancer is treated. While traditional chemotherapy is still used, many patients can take advantage of immunotherapy and targeted therapies. These new therapies work with the specific molecular profile of the cancer to target the genes or proteins that are signaling the cancer to grow.
November 18, 2021 is “Great American Smokeout” day. The Great American Smokeout is a day set aside every year by the American Cancer Society to encourage Americans to take steps to become a non-smoker. Cigarettes are very addictive and quitting them requires support. Those that get support are more likely to be successful at becoming non-smokers.
This November, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the “pre-holiday” season, take a moment to support organizations that fund research for lung cancer. Encourage yourself and your loved ones to stop smoking. Discuss low dose CT screening with your doctor and decide if you should be screened. Finally, in November, wear white to support those that have fought or are fighting lung cancer.
Jennifer Lanni, RN, is the Head/Neck and Lung Cancer Navigator at Halifax Health – Center for Oncology. The Navigator is an integral part of the treatment team and helps guide patients through treatment, assists in organizing care, and providing education and assistance each step of the way.
If you have questions about lung cancer screenings or a recent lung cancer diagnosis, please call Jennifer at 386.425.LUNG. For more information about Halifax Health – Center for Oncology, please visit halifaxhealth.org/cancercare.