Op-ed: Learn about lung cancer prevention, screening

As a member of the bipartisan Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation, I want to share the following information as we observe National Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

It’s no secret that lung cancer is deadly. It’s the second most commonly diagnosed cancer (after skin cancer) in both men and women and the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. In 2019, an estimated 228,150 Americans are expected to be diagnosed and 142,670 are expected to die of the disease. In West Virginia alone, an estimated 2,010 are expected to be diagnosed and 1,360 are expected to die of lung cancer.

Unfortunately, research shows that the word isn’t out about screening for those at high risk of lung cancer. According to a 2019 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, only about 4 percent of people who met lung cancer screening criteria received the recommended low-dose spiral CT (LDCT) scan. If you or a loved one currently smoke or smoked regularly in the past, learn about screening recommendations and benefits and risks.

Who should be screened?

Getting screened annually with LDCT is recommended for people between the ages of 55 and 80 who currently smoke or who quit in the past 15 years and have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history (A “pack-year” is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year). Those getting screened should be in good health and should be able to have surgery or other treatments.

What are the benefits and risks of screening?

Screening may help find lung cancer earlier, when successful treatment is more likely. Symptoms don’t usually appear until cancer has advanced, so early detection through screening is key. But LDCTs will not find every cancer or may discover conditions that aren’t lung cancer, which could require further testing. If you are at high risk for lung cancer and meet the screening criteria, talk to your health care professional about screening.

Can lung cancer be prevented?

Cigarette smoking is linked to 80-90 percent of all lung cancer cases, so quitting tobacco products of any kind is the best way to reduce your risk. Up to 20 percent of people who die from lung cancer have never smoked — these cases may be linked to secondhand smoke, exposure to radon (found in homes or buildings) or other carcinogens in the workplace, or a family history of the disease. Avoid secondhand smoke when possible, test your home for radon and protect yourself if you are exposed to carcinogens in your work environment. To learn more about lung cancer, visit www.preventcancer.org/lung.


Mary G. McKinley, RN, MSN, CCRN, is a critical care nurse and is the spouse of David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., and is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Statistics provided by the Prevent Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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