Think you don’t have to worry about lung cancer because you’re not a smoker? Think again. Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women in the U.S. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month so take time to appreciate your lungs as you breathe in the autumn air and also catch up on the latest developments in lung cancer prevention and early detection—especially for those at increased risk.
Although lung cancer death rates have been declining since the 1990s due to fewer people smoking, we still have work to do. An estimated 235,760 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021 and an estimated 131,880 people will die from the disease. In Maryland alone, an estimated 4,230 will be diagnosed and 2,440 will die of the disease this year. As a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program®, I encourage you to read on to learn more and share this vital information with your loved ones.
Lung cancer deaths could potentially be reduced even further if more people got screened. Only about 5% of those eligible for screening actually get screened. The recommended method of screening is the low-dose CT scan (LDCT), which uses an X-ray and a small amount of radiation to get detailed images of your lungs.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) expanded its guidelines for those who should be screened, giving a “B” grade to people ages 50-80 with a 20 pack-year history who currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years. (A “pack-year” is the equivalent of smoking one pack per day for a year.) Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies must cover screening services given an “A” or “B” grade from the USPSTF. Previously, screening was recommended to those ages 55-80 with a 30 pack-year history, so with the change more people now have access to screening.
According to USPSTF, the updated recommendation will be especially beneficial to Black people and women, who tend to smoke fewer cigarettes than white men but still develop lung cancer at high rates. African American men have the highest lung cancer rates in the U.S., so expanding access to screening is vital for this community.
Although 80%-90% of lung cancer deaths are caused by cigarette smoking, nonsmokers can also develop lung cancer. About 10-20% of lung cancers in the U.S. are found in people who never smoked or smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime. Other risk factors include exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, air pollution, or asbestos, or a family history of lung cancer.
Screening is only recommended for those at high risk, but you can reduce your risk of lung cancer by not smoking (or quitting if you do smoke), avoiding secondhand smoke, testing your home for radon, and following safety guidelines if your occupation exposes you to carcinogens. Talk to your health care provider if you have a family history of the disease. If you have loved ones who smoke, encourage them to quit and talk to their health care providers about screening. To learn more, visit www.preventcancer.org/lungcancer.
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. Statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Cancer Society.