November’s designation as Lung Cancer Awareness Month provides an opportunity to educate the public regarding the importance of early screening, but it also creates a platform to discuss improving patients’ overall lung health.
The goal of the comprehensive Lung Cancer Screening Program at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital is to help high risk cancer patients receive a diagnosis and treatment plan at an early stage, and provide fast, accurate and efficient diagnosis and management of suspicious lung nodules through expert analysis by a radiologist, interventional pulmonologist or thoracic surgeon.
Suspicious lung nodules—small masses of tissue in the lung—are quite common and detected through chest imaging such as X-ray and CT scans. Nodules can be cancerous, though most are benign. Noncancerous nodules usually require no treatment, with your doctor possibly recommending periodic imaging tests to monitor their growth or changes. Patients diagnosed with malignant nodules may begin a treatment plan developed through collaboration between oncologists, pulmonologists and thoracic surgeons.
The Lung Cancer Screening Program also seeks to dispel some of the many myths related to lung cancer and other conditions of the pulmonary system.
“Because smoking rates have fallen in recent decades, many people assume that lung cancer is no longer a major health concern,” said Shawn Tittle, MD, a thoracic surgeon at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital. “But lung cancer remains the deadliest of all cancers. More Americans die each year from lung cancer than from colon, breast and prostate cancer combined, even though most lung cancers are easily preventable. Lung Cancer Awareness Month gives us an opportunity to educate and inform people, as well as increase the number of people who are screened early.”
One of the most persistent misconceptions about lung cancer, especially among long-term smokers, is that it is “too late” to stop. But Tittle says that quitting smoking at any time not only can reduce the risk of cancer, but also provides other health benefits, including improved circulation and heart and lung function.
“A smoker can cut his or her risk of lung cancer by as much as 50 percent by quitting,” Tittle said. “It’s never too late to gain some benefit, and of course, the earlier you quit, the better.”
Another common myth is that only smokers get lung cancer. While smoking is by far the number one cause, approximately 20 percent of lung cancers occur in patients who have never smoked. Some of those cases are the result of genetic mutations; others are caused by environmental factors, such as exposure to asbestos or radon gas.
Regardless of the underlying cause, early detection is critical to survival rates. Lung cancer patients can now benefit from a range of new, targeted therapies, such as low-dose radiation CT scanning for high-risk patients.
“In the past, most patients didn’t realize they had lung cancer until it was in an advanced stage,” said Tittle. “Screening with CT gives us the opportunity to detect lung cancer long before it becomes symptomatic or spreads outside the lungs. And early detection is one of the keys to successful treatment.”
People 55 to 77 years of age who currently smoke or have quit smoking in the past 15 years, have a tobacco smoking history of at least 30 “pack years” (an average of one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, etc.), and receive a written order from a physician are eligible for low-dose CT lung screening.
For more information on the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital, visit houstonmethodist.org/baytown or call 832-556-6300.