Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the U.S. The good news is the five-year survival rate increases dramatically if lung cancer is treated before spreading to other parts of the body. Dr. Christina Szot with Renown Pulmonary Medicine and Renown Institute for Cancer discusses signs and symptoms, screenings and risk factors.
Lung cancer survival rates increase dramatically with early detection. We asked Christina Szot, M.D., medical director of Renown’s Lung Cancer Screening Program, about recommended screenings and risk factors.
What are the signs and symptoms people should look for to detect lung cancer early?
As you might expect, most lung cancer symptoms appear in the chest and can affect your breathing. Watch for signs such as persistent cough, constant chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, bloody or rust-colored phlegm, hoarseness, swelling of the neck, pain or weakness in the shoulder, arm or hand, recurring pneumonia, bronchitis or other lung infections. Loss of appetite and loss of weight can also be signs of lung cancer.
That said, there are usually no symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer, which means getting screened can truly be a lifesaver. If you have a history of smoking, you should get screened as a precaution.
Apart from smoking, what other risk factors are tied to lung cancer?
Around 80 percent of cases of lung cancer stem from a history of smoking tobacco. But there are other known causes such as secondhand smoke, radon, asbestos and diesel exhaust. It’s important to do what you can to eliminate exposure to all of these to reduce your lung cancer risk.
People with an immediate relative — a parent, sibling or child — diagnosed with lung cancer and people between 55 and 80 years old are also at higher risk and may need to consider screening.
As you mentioned, the people who are at the highest risk are those with a history of smoking tobacco, particularly smokers who averaged one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more, as well as former heavy smokers who quit in the last 15 years.
When should someone consider screening? What type of screening is there?
Anyone with the risk factors or symptoms we’ve mentioned should talk with their doctor about being screened. Renown Institute for Cancer has a lung cancer screening program that offers low-dose computed tomography. Low-dose CT has been proven to find lung cancer at its earliest stages and uses roughly a quarter of the radiation of a normal CT scan. Plus, compared to chest X-rays, low-dose CT has been shown to increase survival rates by 20 percent.
What diagnostic options are available?
Depending on your risk factors and the results of your screening, we also have minimally invasive diagnostic options, including electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy — also known as ENB — and endobronchial ultrasound known as EBUS.
ENB combines GPS-like technology with a small scope that’s passed through the airways to access hard-to-reach lesions. This innovative approach allows for earlier, more personalized treatment of lung cancer.
EBUS provides real-time imaging of the surface of the airways, blood vessels, lung and lymph nodes. These images allow your doctor to view difficult-to-reach areas and access smaller lymph nodes for biopsy.