November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, set aside to emphasize the importance of being screened for lung cancer early. Lung cancer is the second-most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. It also is the most common cause of cancer death, claiming more lives each year than colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Part of this is due to the fact that people with early stage lung cancer often either don’t notice any symptoms or choose to ignore potential warning signs. Some mistakenly believe that increased breathlessness and coughing are normal parts of aging. In fact, lung cancer and other progressive lung diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma, can develop for years without causing so much as a noticeable shortness of breath. Because of this, pulmonary health screenings are the best way to detect problems in the earliest, most-treatable stages.
One way of finding signs of possible lung cancer is by taking a spiral computed tomography (CT) test. Similar to a chest x-ray, this test involves looking closely at the chest and lungs for signs of tumors or abnormal growths, and can identify small lung cancers in people who are current or former heavy smokers. These state-of-the-art screenings have been shown to reduce lung cancer deaths by nearly 20 percent.
Any chest or lung mass spotted on a CT test should be evaluated fully by your doctor, as catching it early can lead to a good chance that the mass might be able to be removed completely. Some masses look absolutely benign and are nothing to worry about. Still, a larger percentage may look benign, but should still be followed by a repeat scan at a later date. If scans continue to be concerning, you may need to have a biopsy or surgery.
When lung cancer is detected early, effective treatment is possible. Getting screened when you’re not symptomatic, but are beginning to notice some early signs creates a better chance of catching the disease at an operable stage. Early lung cancer symptoms can include a heavy cough, coughing up blood, fever, chills or potentially a lump on the neck. Many cancers also can cause such symptoms as a decrease in energy, a general malaise or signs of anemia. With lung cancer, however, those signs often mean the disease has reached a more advanced stage.
Experts recommend people over age 50 who are still smoking should see their doctor and at least get an x-ray. If signs of lung cancer are found, treatment options are available.
For more information on lung cancer care at Blount Memorial Hospital, click here. To make an appointment, call the Blount Memorial radiology department at 865-981-2288 or East Tennessee Medical Group at 865-984-3864.