This article is the part of a monthly series of stories focused on cancer issues. Denver7 is proud to partner with the American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community, Colorado Cancer Coalition and Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HealthONE to bring you these stories, tips and resources.
DENVER -- In the United States, lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. More people die from lung cancer than breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined.
This year in Colorado, the American Cancer Society estimates that 2,550 people will be diagnosed with lung and bronchus cancers and 1,450 people will die from the disease.
Smoking raises the risk for lung cancer and is by far the leading cause of lung cancer. Other factors such as exposure to other chemicals and genetic changes can cause lung cancer.
Types of Lung Cancer
There are two main types of lung cancer:
- Non-small cell lung cancer, which is often treated with surgery alone if caught early — in Stage I or II. In patients with Stage III, doctors may advise a combination of therapies like surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer is treated with chemotherapy alone, and sometimes radiation as well.
- Small cell lung cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy and radiation instead of surgery.
Lung Cancer Risk Factors
As you likely already know, smoking causes a large majority of lung cancers in adults, but non-smokers are also diagnosed with lung cancer.
Here are some common risk factors you might not be as familiar with:
- Breathing second-hand smoke from cigarettes, pipes, or cigars.
- Exposure to high levels of radon, a gas from rocks and dirt that occurs naturally and can get trapped in houses and buildings.
- Exposure to workplace substances like asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust and some forms of silica and chromium.
- Having immediate family members like parents, siblings or children who were diagnosed with lung cancer.
- Being a cancer survivor who received radiation therapy to the chest as part of treatment.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
Unfortunately, people with early-stage lung cancer don’t experience any symptoms.
As cancer grows, common symptoms of lung cancer include:
- Cough that won’t go away
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Feeling tired and rundown
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss/not feeling hungry
Remember, these symptoms could also be due to another medical issue, so its important to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you might be having.
Lung Cancer Screening
People considered high risk — those who are between 55 and 77 years old and who have smoked at least 30 pack years — are eligible for a lung cancer screening. You can calculate pack years by multiplying the number of packs smoked per day by the number of years smoked (if you have current lung cancer symptoms, you’re not eligible for the screening).
The American Cancer Society recommends lung cancer screening annually, with a low dose CT scan, for people at higher risk for lung cancer and who are ages 55-74 with a 30-pack year smoking history who currently smoke or who have quit in the last 15 years. It’s important for people to speak with their healthcare provider about screening to make an informed decision.
“It’s been shown that lung cancer screenings can reduce the mortality of lung cancer by 20 percent,” said Jenifer Marks, a general thoracic surgeon at Cardiothoracic & Vascular Surgery Associates who sees patients at The Medical Center of Aurora, Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center and Rose Medical Center. “Early detection is of paramount importance.”
Screenings are recommended annually for those who meet the screening and risk factor criteria.
How Artificial Intelligence is Saving Lives
The Sarah Cannon Cancer Network at HealthONE is using advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technology to help detect lung cancer early. AI technology scans radiology reports for all chest CTs performed in the various hospitals and facilities for the word “nodule” related to lung and a few other keywords to help identify lung nodules, which is an abnormal spot seen on an imaging exam. The nodules may be of early or varying degrees of concern, Dr. Marks said.
“Our software pulls out reports that are fed to our lung nodule coordinator at each facility who then goes in and reviews the chart and verifies the info that the technology picked up,” she said.
Any concerning lung nodule is brought to a multidisciplinary tumor conference at each hospital. There a team of invested physicians who treat those nodules — a thoracic surgeon, a pulmonologist, a radiologist, a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist — then determine the appropriate follow up.
“We have the expert eyes; this is what we look at and deal with every single day and we can pick out the nodules that are concerning and help facilitate a much more rapid follow-up or workup for that nodule so we’re not losing time for a potential malignancy,” Dr. Marks said.
Learn more in this video.
Biomarker testing tool for lung cancer
This groundbreaking streamlined platform from the Cancer Support Community empowers lung cancer patients and their loved ones to be informed and active participants in the treatment decision-making process.
Biomarker testing is a transformative, relatively new development in cancer care that helps doctors learn more about the specific subtype of cancer of their patients. Depending on the results of biomarker testing, this information can be used to provide targeted therapy to treat this specific subtype of cancer. By answering a few brief questions, lung cancer patients and their loved ones can receive personalized information about their biomarker testing options and how targeted therapy could impact the course of their treatment.
American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout
The American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout is on the third Thursday of November. This year it’s Nov. 19. The Great American Smokeout is an opportunity for people who smoke to commit to healthy, smoke-free lives — not just for a day, but year round.
The Great American Smokeout event challenges people to stop smoking and helps people learn about the many tools they can use to help them quit and stay quit.
About 32.4 million American adults still smoke cigarettes, and smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world.
The American Cancer Society has resources to quit at cancer.org/smokeout and 1-800-227-2345