Screenings encouraged to detect, combat lung cancer in older adults
OGDEN — Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women worldwide, and detecting it early is critically important, especially among high-risk patients with a history of smoking.
With November being Lung Cancer Awareness Month, health officials are reminding people to get a screening if they meet the new criteria set by the United States Preventive Services Task Force. The guidelines, recently updated, recommend an annual low dose computed tomography, or CT, scan in adults ages 50-80 who have a 20-pack-per-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit smoking within the past 15 years.
“Many times, people don’t get diagnosed with lung cancer until it’s at a late stage because there are not many symptoms in early stage lung cancer,” said Dr. Robert Zink, director of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at Ogden Regional Medical Center. “Early detection of lung cancer can reduce the risk of death by 20%.”
Zink said while 8 million Americans are eligible for lung cancer screenings, only 5.7% are actually screened.
Zink said symptoms of lung cancer include blood when you cough or spit; recurring respiratory infections; an enduring cough that is new or different; an ache or pain in the shoulder, back or chest; trouble breathing; hoarseness or wheezing; and exhaustion, weakness or loss of appetite.
“Lung cancer is largely a preventable disease,” Zink said. “If people didn’t smoke, the risk of this cancer would decrease substantially, and if you are a smoker or have been a smoker, it’s best to find your lung cancer early when the chance of cure is the best.”
In addition to causing lung cancer, Zink said smoking can cause heart disease or stroke. It can also cause or worsen chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, reproductive effects in women, premature and low birth weight in babies, Type 2 diabetes, and blindness, macular degeneration and cataracts.
While smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, approximately 20% of those diagnosed have never smoked. Other causes include air pollution, asbestos, secondhand smoke, radiation and radon gas, which is the second leading risk factor for lung cancer.
Radon is a radioactive gas that forms naturally when uranium, thorium or radium, which are radioactive metals, break down in rocks, soil and groundwater, said Sherri Waters, environmental health program manager for the Weber-Morgan Health Department.
“It’s in the air you breathe,” she said. “It can be in homes, schools or offices. It can get into any enclosed area through a crack in the wall.”
Some parts of Utah have been reported to have higher radon readings, Waters said. They include Huntsville, Eden, Croydon and some parts of Ogden and North Ogden.
“You can’t taste, see or smell it,” Waters said. “The only way to know if you have it is to test for it and the tests are easy to come by. We have some here at the health department and you can usually find them in home improvement stores.”
Waters said smoking combined with radon exposure, puts a person at greater risk for lung cancer than either one alone.
“There are about 2,900 deaths due to radon in non-smokers per year in the U.S. There are about 21,000 deaths in smokers exposed to long-term radon,” Waters said.
To lower the risk in your home, seal cracks in floors and walls, increase air flow in the home, stop smoking and don’t allow smoking in your home.
The Weber-County Health Department is currently having a poster contest in area schools to raise awareness of radon exposure. You can vote at radon.utah.gov beginning Friday. Winners and their teacher will receive a cash prize and will get to meet Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.
For more information on testing, call the National Radon Hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON.