In 2012, 1.59 million deaths occurred worldwide due to lung cancer. In Canada, it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer (other than non-melanoma skin cancers) and is the leading cause of cancer related deaths.
Lung cancer is typically discovered only after it has spread and is at an advanced stage, at which point the cancer is exceedingly difficult to cure. Therefore, the best strategies to thwart lung cancer are prevention and early screening.
Here’s how to ensure you’re doing everything you can to keep your lungs healthy.
With lung cancer, prevention is key
We’ve all heard the message, but it bears repeating: stop smoking!
The largest risk factor for developing lung cancer is cigarette smoking, which accounts for up to 90 per cent of all lung cancers. Second-hand smoke exposure also increases the risk of lung cancer by up to 30 per cent. So to reduce the likelihood of getting lung cancer, stop smoking and try to avoid being around others who smoke.
Because smoking damages the breathing tube and lung tissues, it also causes or worsens other lung diseases, such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma. Additionally, people who smoke tend to have more colds, flus and pneumonia than those who don’t. If you’re a smoker, you need to stop. Talk to your Copeman Healthcare team about strategies to help you quit.
The importance of early lung cancer screening
Currently, three-quarters of patients diagnosed with lung cancer present at late stages of the disease. Late-stage lung cancer has a far higher mortality rate compared to early stage. Individuals with Stage 4 disease, for example, have a five-year survival rate of just 1 per cent. Compare that to patients with Stage 1a disease, whose five-year survival rate is 49 per cent.
The goal of screening for lung cancer in high-risk individuals without symptoms is to reduce both illness and mortality. Low-dose chest CT scans (also called low-dose helical computerized tomography – or LDCT – scans) have been shown to identify early disease in patients without clinical symptoms. Chest x-rays are not effective for lung cancer screening.
Who should get screened for lung cancer or lung disease?
Candidates for lung cancer screening include current or past smokers.
Various expert groups have adopted a general principle for lung cancer screening for high-risk individuals who aren’t currently exhibiting symptoms of lung disease or cancer.
The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care recommends an annual LDCT scan for three consecutive years for asymptomatic individuals between 55 and 74 years of age with at least a 30 pack per year smoking history (eg. 1 pack/day for 30 years or 2 packs/day for 15 years), or previous smokers who quit fewer than 15 years ago.
Others who may be at risk for lung cancer include those with a history of radiation therapy for previous malignancies (e.g. Hodgkin’s lymphoma, breast cancer), as well as those who have been exposed to environmental toxins such as second-hand smoke, asbestos, radon, certain metals or HIV infection.
In consultation with your Copeman physician, screening will be pursued if deemed beneficial and follow-up investigations are intended.
Spirometry testing for general lung health
Another test that is used to assess lung function is a spirometry test. Essentially, this test measures how much air you can inhale and exhale from your lungs and at what rate.
At Copeman, spirometry testing is completed regularly as part of both the LifePlus Program and the annual Comprehensive Health Assessment to evaluate lung function and identify asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung diseases in those with certain symptoms or risk factors such as smoking, environmental/occupational exposures or family history.
Spirometry can also be used to monitor disease progression. The frequency of this testing should be based upon individual symptoms and risk factors; your Copeman physician will advise accordingly.
To learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as well as preventive strategies and screening to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer or lung disease, contact your Copeman Healthcare team today – and breathe easier.