Cancer. It’s a word that enters everyday conversation, though not usually welcomed. Nearly everyone has been affected by this word. With that word – this horrible disease – a number of emotions and thoughts cross one’s mind, and the experience is different for each person affected. The person who has been given that diagnosis reacts differently than the caregiver or the neighbor or even the doctor giving this news. Cancer is a word that causes pain, hardships and daily struggle.
Diagnosed every 2.5 minutes, lung cancer will be responsible for the deaths of 427 people today. That’s a total of almost 160,000 lives annually and more than colon, breast and prostate cancer deaths combined. This is a cancer that may not present with signs and symptoms that point the healthcare provider right to the source of the problem, making early diagnosis difficult.
This is a disease where, in 85-90 percent of the cases, the cause is smoking. If lung cancer is largely a smoker’s disease, then why don’t smokers just quit? If only it was that easy. Smoking is an addiction, and a hard one to break. The nicotine inhaled from a cigarette takes a quick 10 seconds to be absorbed into the bloodstream and signal the brain to release adrenaline. The end result is a feeling of pleasure and energy. But that feeling fades all too quickly, the cycle begins again, and the need to light another cigarette drives the addiction. As with any addiction you begin to develop tolerance, and more nicotine is required to gain the same feeling as before. Fear of withdrawal coupled with addiction to nicotine could be intimidating to the smoker in their efforts to quit. One begins to feel the symptoms of withdrawal – including, but not limited to, intense cravings, anxiety, restless feelings and headaches – a mere two to three hours after their last cigarette. It is possible for the smoker to make seven or eight attempts before they successfully quit smoking. Continued support from loved ones, coworkers and healthcare providers could make a quit journey easier.
It is important to note that lung cancer is also a disease of nonsmokers, with other known causes such as radon gas, asbestos, air pollution and genetics. Non-smoker lung cancer can still be ranked in the top 10 of the most deadly cancers in the United States.
Those who do smoke begin this habit early in life, most likely before the age of 18. The negative effects of smoking take years to develop and present in a way that causes concern to the smoker. Most lung cancer cases are diagnosed between the ages of 65-74 years old. A condition that takes this much time to become apparent – in some cases more than 50 years – doesn’t seem so threatening when the addiction begins.
Event with lung cancer numbers as prevalent as they are; awareness is an aspect of lung cancer that may be lacking. Is there something more that can be done? Are there attitudes and stigmas associated with those two words that perhaps prevent a person with symptoms from talking to their healthcare provider? The Lung Cancer Project (thelungcancerproject.org) is a movement working to remove stigma and other barriers that people with lung cancer are facing so that they may receive the care they need and deserve. This research project has shown that three out of four people have a negative bias toward people with lung cancer, associating the disease with shame and hopelessness.
There are several organizations in the nation directing their efforts to changing biases, promoting awareness and raising funds for further research on lung cancer. Groups like Lung Force (lung.org), the Bonnie J. Adarrio Lung Cancer Foundation (lungcancerfoundation.org) and The Lung Cancer Project are working tirelessly to change face and future of lung cancer.
Detection and treatment
What is being done in the detection and treatment of lung cancer? Early detection through a low-dose CT scan is gaining recognition and proving to be a key piece of ammunition in this battle. Low-dose CT scans detect lung cancer in its smallest stages, before a person begins to experience any other symptoms, allowing early treatment and better outcomes. Targeted therapy and immunotherapy are being administered to patients with lung cancer that have been identified with certain biomarkers. The goal of treatment for lung cancer is beginning to shift from palliative to curative; patients are surviving and beating this disease.
There is never a patient sitting in an exam room, waiting for the doctor to come in and say that they have cancer. No one expects or wants to be diagnosed with lung cancer. Every patient deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and offered the most advanced treatment to battle cancer.
Along with offering at-risk patients low-dose CT lung cancer screenings, Mount Nittany Health also has a lung nodule program, a service made possible by a lead gift from Lloyd and Dottie Huck to the Mount Nittany Health Foundation, that is dedicated to improving the quality of life for adults by providing early detection of lung cancer and best practices in lung nodule care, using a multi-specialty healthcare team.
To learn more about Mount Nittany Health’s lung nodule program, visit mountnittany.org.
This article originally appeared in Town and Gown.