Cancer Answers -- Carol Lowe

QUESTION: Are you a smoker? Or did you smoke in the past?

Close to a quarter million Americans will be diagnosed this year with lung cancer. While some people who develop the disease have a history of smoking, nonsmokers are also at risk. Nonsmokers get lung cancer, too.

Some facts you should know:

Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the people with lung cancer never have inhaled a cigarette. Early signs of lung cancer are not always evident. Most people do not experience any pain or discomfort during the disease's early stages. Screening for lung cancer could save your life. A low-dose CT scan helps detect signs of lung cancer, such as nodules or spots on the lung, early when the disease is most treatable. It is never too late to quit.

Regardless of your smoking past, you can still reduce your risk of lung cancer and other conditions like heart disease by kicking the habit now. Just five years of smoke-free living halves your risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder. In 10 years, your risk of dying from cancer is half the risk of someone who continues to light up.

Who should be screened? Risk factors include people ages 50 to 77 years old; those who currently smoke or who have quit within the past 15 years; and people who have smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 20-plus years.

If you are a current or former smoker, your risk of developing lung cancer may be 10 to 25 times higher than someone who never smoked. A CT scan is the only proven effective way to screen for lung cancer. As you know, lung cancer that is caught early is more likely to be treatable and cured. Take charge of your health: Get screened.

Lung cancer screening is done using an imaging machine to produce a low-dose spiral (or helical) CT (computed tomography) scan of the chest. This scan uses a series of X-rays to show the shape, size and location of anything abnormal in the chest that might signal the need for follow up.

CT scans are very sensitive and can show both cancerous and noncancerous areas. To get a CT scan, the patient lies very still on a table, which is slowly moved through the CT scanner. An X-ray machine rotates around the person and takes pictures from many angles. A computer then combines the pictures into a very detailed image. The procedure takes less than 30 seconds. There are no medications or injections needed and there is no need to stop eating or drinking before the exam.

As long as their clothing does not contain metal, patients may not even have to change. It is important, however, to be able to hold your breath for several seconds. That way, the lungs will not move during the scan and the images will be clear.

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To discuss the benefits and risks associated with lung cancer screening, call the Mission Hope Cancer Center nurse navigator at 346-3463.

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Join us for a free educational Community Forum on “What’s New in Lung Cancer Treatment” on Nov. 7 at 5 p.m. at the Mission Hope Cancer Center Conference Room. Learn about guidelines on lung cancer screening and minimally invasive advanced procedure called electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy. Space is limited. Call 219-4673 to make a reservation.

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Have a question for Your Cancer Answers, a weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program? Email it to mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org.

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