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November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Screening now available

Karen Miller
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in this country, but the most deadly. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 237,740 new cases will be diagnosed in 2022 and over 130,000 deaths.

The median age at diagnosis is 71 and the median age at death is 72. The overall 5-year survival rate of 29% is one of the lowest. In comparison, the survival rate of prostate cancer is 97%. Black men in particular are hit hard. They experience the highest number of new cases and deaths from lung cancer.

Risk factors

Cigarette smoking is the major cause of the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States cigarette smoking is linked to up to 90% of lung cancer deaths. People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke.

And it doesn’t take much. Smoking even a few cigarettes a day or smoking occasionally increases the risk of lung cancer, according to the CDC. Cumulative years take a toll. The more years a person smokes and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the higher the risk. That’s largely because tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are poisons. At least 70 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer.

Other types of tobacco use, such as pipes or cigars, secondhand smoke, and exposure to asbestos and radon also increase the risk of lung cancer.

Early detection

The good news is that there is now a reliable screening test for lung cancer called low-dose CT scan. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force defines the people who should be screened yearly.

  • People with a 20 pack year or more history of smoking, and
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Are between 50 and 80 years old.

A pack-year is defined as smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. That means a person who smokes one pack for 20 years or two packs for 10 years has a 20 pack year.

Yet, according to the American Lung Association, in 2021 only 5.8% of those eligible were screened. Massachusetts had the highest compliance at 16.3%, while California had a screening rate of 1%. Yet, if lung cancer is found early, the 5-year survival rate increases to 61.2%

Find out if you are eligible for lung cancer screening at

Time to quit

The Massachusetts Tobacco and Nicotine Quit line is available at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). This is a free and confidential one-on-one coaching to help you quit tobacco — whether cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chew, or other tobacco or nicotine products.

The best way to beat lung cancer is to never smoke, but if you do smoke, develop a plan to stop.

health, lung cancer
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