Fear of the unknown often dictates how we respond to situations thrown at us. Fear that we won’t succeed, fear that we won’t be accepted, and fear of anticipatory bad news may cause an emotional paralysis. But fear can hinder us. When it comes to lung cancer, or the suspicion of lung cancer, I have often seen this fear hold patients back from screening. But it is important to know that when lung cancer is found early, there is a better chance of successful treatment and maintaining a good quality of life.
Speaking from firsthand experience, I admit that dealing with the possibility of cancer, and even finding a lung nodule on a scan, is very emotional and scary. My father passed away from small-cell lung cancer 16 years ago, and in 2006, when a CT scan showed a spot on my lungs, trust me, I was scared. So I understand the fear that people experience when they go through a similar situation. But this is also the best time to stand up and take action for your health.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and as you may or may not know, the American Cancer Society reports lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths (in smokers and non-smokers). Additionally, one in 13 men and one in 16 women will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime. As we turn our focus to lung cancer this month, it’s time to stand up, fight our fears and be screened for lung cancer.
Early lung cancers often come with no symptoms. That’s why early detection is key. According to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, low-dose lung CT screenings are recommended annually for people who:
◾Are between the ages of 55 and 77
◾Have a 30-pack year history of smoking (a pack year is smoking an average of one pack, or 20 cigarettes, a day for a full year, so if you smoked two packs for 15 years, that would be considered a 30-pack year history)
◾Currently smoke or who have quit within the past 15 years
If you are unsure if screening is right for you, speak with your physician. If screening is not the best option at the moment, and while lung cancer cannot be prevented fully, there are several ways to reduce your risk of lung cancer, including:
◾Stop smoking or exposing yourself to secondhand smoke. If you are having trouble quitting smoking, seek out a cessation program.
◾Eat a diet low in animal fat, with a large focus on fruits and vegetables.
◾Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly.
◾Avoid exposing yourself to environmental toxins such as radon and asbestos.
I encourage you to break through the fear of the unknown and consider being screened for lung cancer this month and beyond. After all, screenings can save lives.
Learn about how advances are changing the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.