Lung Screenings Save Lives
By Gavin Henry, MD, FACS
In the United States, lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. In fact, it caused more deaths in 2020 than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer combined. But there is hope. Getting regular lung cancer screenings can help save your life.
It is important to get a lung screening if you are age 55 to 77 years, a current smoker or have quit in the last 15 years, have smoked a pack a day or more for 30 years, and do not currently have any signs of lung cancer. Smokers are twenty times more likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers, so talk to your doctor to see if you should get a screening.
There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. About 80% to 85% of lung cancers are non-small cell, and include a type called adenocarcinoma. This lung cancer is mainly found in current or former smokers. This type of cancer is found in the outer part of the lung, which means it is more likely to be found before it spreads. Lung cancer screenings are the best way to detect adenocarcinoma.
Another type of non-small cell lung cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. This cancer affects the cells that line the inside of the airways and tend to be found in the central part of the lungs near a main airway. This type of cancer is also often found in people who have a history of smoking. There are also fast-growing cancers known as large cell (undifferentiated) carcinomas and other subtypes that are much less common.
Small cell lung cancers, sometimes known as oat cell cancers, make up about 10 to 15 percent of all lung cancers. These grow and spread really fast, but respond very well to treatment. Unfortunately, the cancer often returns at some point.
Finally, there are tumors that can grow in the lungs. These are slow-growing lung carcinoid tumors and other lung tumors such as lymphomas, sarcomas, and adenoid cystic carcinomas.
The goal of a lung screening is to find out if you have lung cancer before you have symptoms because this is when treatment is most successful. The earlier you detect the disease, the higher your survival rate.
Lung screenings at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center are very safe and easy. The first step is to get a referral from your doctor, then you meet with an advanced practice provider, such as one of our physician assistants, who discusses the process with you and guides you every step of the way. Next, you get a lung scan using safe, non-invasive, low-dose CT technology. A radiologist uses special software to read your scan to see if there is any sign of cancer or tumors. If any abnormalities are found, a team of experts that includes pulmonologists, radiologists and thoracic surgeons will review your scans as well. The multi-disciplinary team and your advanced practice provider will then meet with you to discuss treatment options, and they work with your referring provider to make sure you get complete care.
If you meet the criteria for a lung screening, please talk to your primary care provider about getting a referral to see our experts at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center Lung Screening program today or visit www.umbwmc.org/lungscreening.
*As published in the Capital Gazette - March 14, 2021