by dr. Jennifer Worth, for the bulletin
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to review information on this disease, as not all risk factors for developing lung cancer are understood.
First some basic information:
- Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women (excluding skin cancer). Prostate cancer is more common in men, while breast cancer is more common in women.
- The American Cancer Society estimates for lung cancer in the United States for 2020 are approximately 228,820 new cases of lung cancer (116,300 in men and 112,520 in women) and approximately 135,720 deaths from lung cancer (72,500 in men and 63,220 in women).
- Lung cancer occurs mainly in older people. Most people with lung cancer are 65 or older; a very limited number of people diagnosed are under the age of 45. The average age of people at diagnosis is around 70.
- Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, accounting for nearly 25% of all cancer deaths. More people die each year from lung cancer than from colon, breast and prostate cancer combined.
Most people understand that smoking, secondhand smoke exposure, and radon play a role in the development of lung cancer, but that doesn’t explain why some people get it and others don’t. Not all lung cancers can be prevented. But there are things you can do that can reduce your risk, like changing the risk factors you can control. In addition to not smoking, eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can also help reduce the risk of lung cancer and other cancers.
Often, people with lung cancer have no symptoms. If you develop a new cough that doesn’t go away, new chest / rib pain, cough with blood, or have experienced unexplained weight loss, you should call your GP to review and discuss.
You can be screened for lung cancer even without symptoms. If you are 55 or older and have a history of smoking, ask your GP if you are eligible. Once enrolled in the program, you will receive scans annually or more often if needed. These are CT scans with low radiation doses that allow us to view lung tissue as safely as possible.
If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, the treatment can be very varied. Treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy, and / or radiation. At Hartford HealthCare, we have multidisciplinary teams of medical oncologists, radiation therapists, radiologists, pathologists and chest surgeons who review cases of patients diagnosed with lung cancer and determine the best care for each individual.
When surgery is part of a patient’s treatment, we try to perform all surgeries through minimally invasive approaches. Often this means using a robotic surgical platform, a tool we use to make the smallest incisions possible, which also offers better visualization and more specialized tools. This helps reduce the length of hospitalization, reduce overall pain, and allow patients to return to work and resume their lives as soon as possible.
dr. Jennifer Worth is a specialist in cardiothoracic surgery at Norwich’s Backus Hospital.