Since November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we asked Pulmonology Specialist Eric G. Peterson, MD, to participate in a quick Q&A on the topic. What he has to say regarding symptoms and prevention could save your life.
Q. What are the most common habits linked to lung cancer?
A. Smoking, smoking, smoking and smoking.
Q. What are the most common environmental factors linked to lung cancer?
A. Exposure to smoke, fumes, radon and asbestos.
Q. What are the most common symptoms?
A. Often there are no symptoms until the cancer is advanced. This is why there has been so much interest in screening. There is now data suggesting that screening low-dose chest CT scans can catch lung cancer earlier, at a more treatable stage and save lives. If lung cancer is symptomatic, it can present in many ways. The most common symptoms are cough, coughing up blood, chest pain, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and weight loss.
Q. What are some preventative measures people can take?
A. Quit smoking now. It’s a very difficult thing to do, but everyone has the ability to do it. It takes a serious conversation with yourself, and once you decide to do it, it is possible. At that point we have medications that can help. Always have certified professionals remove asbestos. Test your house for radon. Consider a low-dose screening chest CT if you are high risk for lung cancer.
Q. What should someone do if they think they might have signs of lung cancer?
A. Contact your primary care doctor to start the workup. It likely will start with a chest x-ray or CT scan. But don’t wait until symptoms start. The current national recommendation by the US Preventative Services Task Force is to perform a low-dose screening chest CT on anyone who is high risk of cancer. We define this as anyone 50-74 years old, who either smokes or has quit in the last 15 years, and has a 30-pack year history of smoking. To calculate your pack years, multiply the number of years you have smoked by the number of packs a day. If you smoked 2 packs per day for 15 years, you have 30 pack years. The reason we are promoting this is to catch lung cancer earlier when we can cure it, and there is evidence that this approach has a mortality benefit.
Learn more about the Smoking Cessation resources offered through Parkview.