Don’t Neglect Lung Cancer Screening During COVID-19

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Contributed By
Dr. Daniel Miller

A recent analysis from the IQVIA Institute reports that 22 million cancer screening tests may be disrupted due to COVID-19, risking delayed or missed diagnoses for 80,000 people across the U.S.

This is particularly concerning considering the statistics surrounding lung cancer and the number of cases potentially going undetected due to the pandemic. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), lung cancer is the number one cancer killer among men and women. The ACS estimates there will be 228,820 new cases of lung cancer this year, yet the pandemic is presenting obstacles in patients receiving diagnoses and treatments.

Spreading awareness about the pervasiveness of lung cancer, especially the importance of screening, is one way we can combat this disease.

Identifying lung cancer early through screening provides a critical advantage to patients, especially those with heightened risk. A recent study reports that patients with localized disease have survival rates as high as 55%; however, only 16% of patients get diagnosed at this stage of their disease. This difference in survival rates further illustrates the absolute need for a reliable screening tool for patients at risk for lung cancer.

Prioritizing chances of survival is critical for people who meet the following criteria to get a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT (low-dose CT scan):

Individuals between 50 to 80 years old

Current or former smokers who have a 20 pack-year smoking history (number of packs smoked per day multiplied by the number of years smoked)

Current smokers or former smokers who have quit within the past 15 years

Other risk factors (history of smoking-related cancers, asbestos or radon exposure, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis or a relative with history of lung cancer)

A low-dose CT scan involves an X-ray machine scanning the body with low doses of radiation to capture detailed pictures of the lungs. Regular chest X-rays have been used to screen for lung cancer; however, studies have shown LDCT scans decrease overall mortality compared to chest x-rays.

In addition to being aware of your risk factors for the disease, including such factors as smoking, radon exposure and workplace carcinogens, it’s important to stay in tune with your body and pay attention to subtle changes. Below are several symptoms of lung cancer of which to be aware:

A cough that does not go away or gets worse

Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)

Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing

Hoarseness

Loss of appetite

Unexplained weight loss

Shortness of breath

Feeling tired or weak

Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back

New onset of wheezing

Though we’ve seen a viral pandemic sprawl across our nation, we must remain aware that cancer doesn’t wait for COVID-19. Skipping preventive screenings, annual check-ups or other healthcare appointments can negatively affect the detection and diagnosis of harmful diseases. Being proactive about health management during this uncertain time can make a substantial difference when it comes to cancer prevention, care and survivorship. Talk with your doctor about screening, risk factors and symptoms, so together as patient and physician, you can make informed decisions.

Dr. Daniel Miller is a renowned leader in thoracic surgery and currently practices at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) Atlanta, which offers a comprehensive Lung Cancer Screening Program. Dr. Miller is also a clinical Professor of Surgery at Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University. He specializes in VATS procedures for early-stage disease and is an expert in the complex surgical procedures involved in treatment of advanced cancers of the trachea, lung, esophagus, mediastinum, bony skeleton and pleural.

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