Sarah Cannon - August 17, 2020

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, it’s estimated that “approximately 6.3 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with lung and bronchus cancer at some point during their lifetime, based on 2015–2017 data.”

Both non-small cell and small cell lung cancer share several risk factors. It is especially important to be aware of the lifestyle risk factors for lung cancer.

Risk factors for small cell and non-small cell lung cancer

  • A current or past history of smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars (even "light" cigarettes)
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • A family history of lung cancer in a first-degree relative
  • Previous radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Exposure to asbestos, chromium, nickel, arsenic, soot, or tar in the workplace
  • Exposure to radon in the home or workplace
  • Exposure to air pollution
  • Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Smoking increases the overall risk for developing lung cancer. Heavy smokers who use beta carotene supplements are at greater risk for non-small cell lung cancer.

Screening for lung cancer

Early detection is a key factor in lung cancer survival rates, and survival rates vary depending on the stage of the cancer upon diagnosis. According to the National Cancer Institute, when the disease remains localized within the lungs, the five-year relative survival is about 59%. However, once it has metastasized, the rate drops to 5.8%.

The challenge has been identifying effective lung cancer screening tests. With only 17% of lung cancer cases diagnosed at an early stage, researchers have explored ways to detect lung cancer as soon as possible, with low-dose spiral CT scans proving successful in lowering the risk of lung cancer-related deaths in heavy smokers.

What is spiral CT scan?

A spiral CT scan uses x-rays to scan the body in a spiral path, which allows for more images in a shorter period of time than older CT methods. Spiral CT scans create more detailed pictures and can be more successful at finding small areas of abnormality within the body. The procedure can be done with or without a contrast dye used to help organs and tissues appear more clearly.

Sarah Cannon’s lung cancer screening recommendation

Low-dose CT scans are recommended for adults, ages 55-77, who are current smokers or those who have quit within the past 15 years and who have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history.

Determining pack-year

You may calculate your pack-year by multiplying the number of cigarette packs/day by the number of years you have smoked.

  • 1 pack/day x 30 years = 30 pack-year history
  • 2 packs/day x 15 years = 30 pack-year history

Despite advances in screening, it cannot prevent all lung cancer-related deaths, and smoking cessation remains essential. For more information on lung cancer, visit Sarah Cannon’s Lung Cancer Symptoms, Screening, Stages.

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tags: lung cancer