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Lung cancer is the deadliest form of cancer, as more people in the United States die from the disease than any other type of cancer. And, although survival rates are much higher than they were thirty years ago, the American Cancer Society estimates that over 135,000 people will have died from lung cancer in 2020.
Unfortunately, many people die from lung cancer because they don’t get diagnosed until the disease has progressed to a later stage. In fact, 57% of people with lung cancer are diagnosed with an advanced stage of lung cancer called distant metastasis, which means cancer has spread to other organs in the body. Once that happens, lung cancer is much harder to treat.
The good news is that advances in technology and medicine have made it possible to improve your chances of surviving lung cancer. Here’s how.
Get screened for lung cancer before you experience symptoms.
If you wait until lung cancer symptoms appear, you’ve already given the disease a chance to grow and spread. Instead, talk to your doctor about getting screened for lung cancer. During a lung cancer screening, an x-ray technician will use a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan to take detailed pictures of your lungs. This allows your doctor to inspect the lungs for signs of cancer, even before any symptoms arise.
Less than six percent of patients with late-stage lung cancer live longer than five years after their diagnosis. But, the five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with localized lung cancer tumors during early stages is 60%. Getting screened sooner than later can ensure you’re catching anything suspicious early while it’s most curable. An early lung cancer screening can even decrease your risk of dying from lung cancer by as much as 20%.
Lung cancer screening eligibility.
We recommend lung cancer screening for men and women who meet all of the following criteria:
- Are between the ages of 55-80
- Have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer
- Have a 30 pack-year smoking history (e.g. you have a history of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or 2 packs of cigarettes a day for 15 years) AND
- Currently smoke or quit within the past 15 years or less
It’s important to note that while the majority of lung cancer patients smoke or have a history of smoking, it’s still possible for non-smokers to develop lung cancer. Although the screening guideline currently doesn’t include indicators for non-smokers, talk to your doctor if you are concerned about any environmental factors or genetic mutations that may affect your chances of lung cancer. They can recommend the best course of action to ensure you’re evaluated early if you’re at risk.
#LungCancer is the deadliest type of cancer, but there’s still hope. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Dr. Veytsman shares 4 ways you can improve your chances of survival: https://bit.ly/3nfHOS5.
See a doctor as soon as you notice signs of lung cancer.
Getting a lung cancer screening is the best way to catch lung cancer early and increase your survival rate. However, if you haven’t reached the age minimum for screenings, or you’ve delayed a lung cancer screening for whatever reason, seek a doctor immediately if you start to experience lung cancer symptoms.
Lung cancer symptoms typically persist and worsen over a long period of time. Signs of lung cancer may include:
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort
- Coughing up blood
Sometimes, smokers get used to a “smokers cough” and chalk it up as normal. It may not be. Don’t ignore signs of lung cancer. If you’re experiencing symptoms, lung cancer may already be spreading, making it much harder to treat. Delaying care only gives the disease more time to progress and worsen, so getting to the doctor sooner rather than later can make a difference between life and death.
If you do have lung cancer, then getting to the doctor as soon as you notice symptoms may give you the opportunity to begin treatment before it worsens. And, a doctor can help to rule out lung cancer if your symptoms are related to something else.
Quit smoking to improve effectiveness of treatment.
Even if you’ve been smoking for decades, it’s never too late to quit smoking. Smoking cessation can reduce your chances of dying from the disease. Lung cancer thrives off of the carcinogens found in cigarettes and other types of smoking. So, if you quit, you “starve” the tumor of what it needs to grow, reducing the chances that it will increase in size.
Additionally, many treatments don’t work well when combined with smoking. By quitting, you can increase the effectiveness of your lung cancer treatments.
Talk to your doctor about which smoking cessation resources may help you stop smoking for good. From prescription drugs to virtual counseling classes, we can help you take the next step to increase your chance of survival.
Prepare for a lifelong battle.
Fighting lung cancer is a long and arduous journey. And for many, it’s an ongoing battle. Early-stage lung cancers have the greatest chance of survival. However, you will always need to be on the lookout for recurrence, as once you have it, it might return.
If you have an advanced stage of lung cancer, there is little chance of a cure. The good news is that there are so many advances in medicine that can help to increase your survival rate. Molecular profiling helps doctors better understand your specific case, and there are many treatment options today, like targeted therapy and immunotherapy, that were unavailable thirty years ago. It may feel scary and daunting, but keep seeking treatment from doctors who are committed to helping you live a quality life for as long as possible.
Remain hopeful, establish a strong support network, and don’t give up!