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Screening for Lung Cancer in Smokers and Non-Smokers

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Lung scan

Lung cancer is commonly associated with smoking, but even some people who are not smokers may develop lung cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), lung cancer accounts for an estimated 13 percent of all new cancers cases, and is the second most common cancer in both men and women (excluding skin cancer). Although lung cancer only makes up about 13 percent of new cancer cases, it accounts for approximately 27 percent of all cancer deaths.

In 2012, the ACS released recommendations for lung cancer screenings in an effort to reduce the fatality rate of this particular cancer. Like all forms of cancer, the earlier lung cancer is detected, the better the patient’s prognosis.

Cooper Clinic Cardiologist Nina Radford, MD, explains the risk factors of lung cancer and the ACS recommendations for lung cancer screening.

Who can get lung cancer?

While people who smoke are at far greater risk of developing lung cancer than those who don’t (smoking is responsible for 85 to 90 percent of all lung cancer cases), there are some other risk factors that may be associated with lung cancer. Other risk factors for lung cancer include:

Secondhand Smoke
Although the extent to which exposure to secondhand smoke increases risk of developing lung cancer, medical research has found a link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer in some cases. “As far as we can tell, it looks like exposure to secondhand smoke can double a non-smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer,” says Dr. Radford. Some studies suggest that approximately one-third of cases of lung cancer in people who never smoked may be related to secondhand smoke.

Minimal exposure to secondhand smoke is not likely to cause cancer. However, working eight hours a day for 20 years in a smoky environment, such as a bar, may increase your risk, says Dr. Radford.

Family History
In some cases, there is a link between lung cancer in people who never smoked and a family history of lung cancer, suggesting a genetic predisposition for this type of cancer. Discuss your family history with your physician. If someone in your family who was not a smoker developed lung cancer, your doctor may recommend a lung cancer screening for you.

Radon is a radioactive gas released from the normal decay of the elements of uranium, thorium, and radium in rocks and soil. We are all exposed to low levels of radon every day, but people who inhale high levels of radon are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Radon was first discovered as a health risk when scientists noted higher rates of lung cancer in underground uranium miners. Radioactive particles from the gas can damage cells lining the lungs, leading to lung cancer.

Like radon, certain environments can put you at a higher risk of exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a group of minerals that occur naturally in the form of fibers. These fibers are commonly used in the building and construction industries for strengthening cement and plastics, as well as for insulation, roofing, fireproofing and sound absorption. People can be exposed to asbestos in their workplace or even in their homes, though people who work in the construction industry may be at a higher risk of exposure. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become trapped in the lungs, causing a number of serious lung diseases including cancer.

Lung Damage
People who have had prior damage to the lungs from radiation, chemotherapy or pulmonary disease may also be at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. However, as Dr. Radford points out, many people with pulmonary disease are or were previously smokers.

Screening for Lung Cancer
In the past, lung cancer screenings consisted of a chest x-ray. This method, however, is not a reliable means of screening for lung cancer, as many times, spots on the lung will not appear on an x-ray. In 2012, the ACS released its new recommendations for lung cancer screenings, which include a CT scan of the lungs.

A CT scan is more likely to detect lung cancer in the early stages and can significantly lower death rates in lung cancer patients.

“The key is for smokers to be honest with their doctor about current or previous smoking behaviors,” says Dr. Radford. Many times people will downplay their smoking habits, which means their doctor may not be alerted to the need for a lung cancer screening.

People who have a family history of lung cancer, or who may have any of the risk factors listed above should make a point to discuss a lung cancer screening with their doctor.

The recommended age for lung cancer screening is 55 to 74 for a 30 pack-year smoker. For example, a person who smoked one pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years, or half a pack a day for 60 years and is between the ages of 55 and 74 should be screened for lung cancer.

“Now we know that lung cancer screening saves lives, it’s something you should discuss with your physician at your next appointment,” says Dr. Radford. “If you are now, or have been a smoker, be honest with your doctor about how much you smoked. It could save your life.

To learn more about lung cancer screenings and other services at Cooper Clinic, or call 972.560.2667.

Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.