Living Well: Fighting Lung Cancer Starts With Quitting Smoking
For patients with lung cancer, we can offer a better chance of beating the disease than ever before.
But it’s better to never have cancer in the first place. That means that quitting smoking should be a priority. It’s not just a matter of your own health. It’s also a matter of the health of those around you, including your friends and loved ones.
What Is Lung Cancer?
With every breath you take, oxygen is passed from your lungs into the bloodstream and carbon dioxide from the blood is taken out and then exhaled. Lung cancer happens when lung cells malfunction and begin growing uncontrollably. Because of the way the lungs work, lung cancer is typically very aggressive and easily spreads to other parts of the body.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the main cause of lung cancer is smoking. It can also be caused by exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. In Kentucky, that’s a major problem, because Kentucky leads the nation in adult smoking. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Kentucky’s adult smoking rate is about 1 in 4, versus the national rate of 1 in 6. That’s why it’s no surprise that Kentucky also leads the country in lung cancer cases diagnosed and lung cancer deaths.
Detection & Diagnosis
Treating lung cancer is highly dependent on the type of cancer and the stage of the disease. Lung cancer comes in two primary types: Small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancers makes up about 85 percent of cases. The remaining 15 percent are small-cell.
The higher the stage, the more advanced the cancer is. In stages I, II and III, the cancer is only found in one lung and nearby lymph nodes. In Stage IV, the cancer has spread farther, either to both lungs or to another part of the body.
The American Cancer Society’s non-small cell lung cancer five-year relative survival rates are as follows:
- Stage I: 49 percent
- Stage II: 30-31 percent
- Stage III: 5 to 14 percent
- Stage IV: 1 percent
For small cell lung cancer, the five-year relative survival rates are as follows:
- Stage I: 31 percent
- Stage II: 19 percent
- Stage III: 8 percent
- Stage IV: 2 percent
Lung cancer screening is covered by Medicare for adults who meet the following criteria:
- Ages 55-77.
- Current smoker or someone who has quit in the last 15 years.
- No signs or symptoms of lung cancer.
- Tobacco smoking history of at least 30 pack-years. A pack-year is equivalent to smoking one pack (20 cigarettes) per day for one year. It scales based on how heavily the individual smokes. A person who smokes two packs per day for 15 years also meets the 30 pack-year requirement.
- Having a written order for a screening from a medical provider (a physician or qualified non-physician practitioner)
Treating lung cancer can be done in a variety of different ways, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and more. As a cardiothoracic surgeon, surgery is my primary means to treat lung cancer. I also work very closely with a team of other specialists to help the patient.
Robotic-assisted surgery is perhaps the biggest advance that we’ve seen in lung cancer surgery, making up about 20 percent of lung cancer surgeries nationally in the last year. Using these sophisticated devices, a surgeon can “pilot” the robot, which has sophisticated arms and tools that give me better control of the surgery inside the patient and 3-D vision (thanks to a special camera). Best of all, this is all done not through one large incision, but through a few small ones (each about 1-3 inches long).
Robot-assisted surgery has many advantages. Patients are much less likely to spend time in the Intensive Care Unit and have much less pain. Most go home in three days or so and many are back to normal activity in about three weeks.
Prevention Is Still The Best Medicine
Even with all these advantages and advances, lung cancer is still a difficult, deadly disease, and it’s better to avoid it if at all possible. The American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout is November 17 of this year, offering a great opportunity to set a date to quit smoking.
If you would like to find resources or assistance to quit smoking, talk to a healthcare provider or call Leah Lewis with One Health Clinical Integration at 270-688-3225 to learn more about the Freedom from Smoking program. We want to help you be free of tobacco so you can live a longer, healthier and happier life.
Dr. Doug Adams is a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon with Owensboro Health’s One Health medical group. For more information or to schedule an appointment with a One Health provider, call 844-44-MY-ONE (844-446-9663).