Smoking & Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer  Screening

Eduardo J. Balbona, M.D. 

Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world. It is also the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in America. There will be over 160,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed this year. The vast majority, almost 90%, will be associated with smoking or a history of smoking in the past. Tragically, the 5-year survival for these individuals diagnosed with lung cancer is only 12-14 percent. By the time symptoms appear or the individual feels ill, lung cancer is often far advanced. The diagnosis typically occurs too late for lung cancer to be effectively treated. Yet when detected early (in Stage 1) lung cancer survival rates are dramatically better, as high as 80-95% (5-year survival).

Early detection strategies are common for cancers of the breast, colon, and prostate. Although lung cancer will kill more Americans than all of these cancers combined, no early detection strategy for lung cancer is widely utilized. Recent studies have proven that the use of low dose Spiral Lung CT can detect four times the number of lung cancers as compared to traditional chest x-rays. Moreover, these cancers were six times more likely to be at the earliest stage (Stage 1) when the chances for cure are best.

The low dose Spiral Lung CT is painless, safe, rapid, and cost effective. The actual procedure requires only a few seconds and is a fraction of the cost of a traditional CT scans. The exam’s x-ray exposure in this procedure is minimal (it is safe) and there is no risk from medications or from intravenous contrast.

You should be aware that many nodules detected by CT are in fact non-cancerous. The presence of calcium in a nodule is an indication that it is very likely a benign granuloma (a scar). Also, even non-calcified nodules may not prove to be cancer and will require a physician’s prudent judgment to manage these appropriately. Your personal physician can use the information gathered by a low dose Spiral Lung CT to follow any abnormalities and take timely action when needed. Also, no test can substitute the need for a careful examination and the expert advice of your physician.

There is no better preventive measure you can do than to not smoke or to quit as early as possible. But if you or your loved one has a significant smoking history, then the use of low dose Spiral Lung CT examinations is an example of the many benefits of early detection and prevention.