Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, particularly when you consider that 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 their symptoms or choose to ignore the potential warning signs. Some mistakenly believe that increased breathlessness and coughing are just 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.
While many people may have put off health screenings this year due to COVID-19 fears, waiting until you begin to notice symptoms of lung cancer can be extremely dangerous, and can even limit the ability to treat the disease. In fact, screening for lung cancer early can help detect it at an operable stage. Some early lung cancer symptoms to be on the lookout for include a heavy cough, coughing up blood, fever, chills or potentially a lump on the neck. Many cancers cause a decrease in energy, a general malaise or signs of anemia, but with lung cancer, those signs often mean the disease is in a more-advanced stage.
Many experts recommend people over age 50, particularly those who are smokers, should see their doctor and get an x-ray. Another way of finding signs of possible lung cancer is by discussing a spiral computed tomography (CT) exam with your physician. Similar to other CT exams, this exam involves looking closely at the chest and lungs for signs of tumors or abnormal growths. If something is detected on your spiral CT exam, you may need a follow-up examination. A small percentage of masses look absolutely benign and are nothing to worry about, but a larger percentage look benign and still need to be followed with a repeat scan at a later date. If there are continuing signs that are concerning, a person may need to have a biopsy, or possibly even further intervention or surgery. Ultimately, any chest or lung mass should be evaluated fully by your doctor.
Spiral lung CT exams at Blount Memorial require a physician order, and may be covered by your insurance company. To schedule a spiral lung CT, contact your physician.