Breathe Easy with Advancements in Lung Cancer Screening and Treatment

Each year, more people die from lung cancer than from breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. What makes lung cancer so deadly is that it is usually detected late, when treatments are less likely to help.

“Lung cancer screening helps patients by finding lung cancer early, when treatments are more likely to save their lives,” said Richard W. Monk, MD, medical director at Carolina Pulmonary, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice.

Richard Monk, MD

Richard Monk, MD

There are four main types of lung cancer: adenocarcinoma; squamous cell carcinoma; small cell carcinomas; and large cell carcinomas, which make up about 90 percent of all lung cancers. Other lung cancers are either rare or hard to define because they have mutated too severely; however, screenings can detect all types of lung cancer.

“Screening finds lung cancer earlier, when it’s at a lower stage and more likely treatable. A patient with early stage lung cancer has about a 73 percent chance of living another five years, but a patient with a late stage IV lung cancer has about a 13 percent chance. To put the benefit in perspective, lung cancer screening has the same strength of recommendation as breast cancer screening with mammograms,” said Dr. Monk.

Lung cancer screening is done with a low-dose CT scan of the lungs. In general, people should be screened if they are between the ages of 55 to 80 with at least a 30-pack year history of smoking, and have smoked within the last 15 years. 

“A pack year is one pack of cigarettes daily for a year, so if you smoke one pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years, you have a 30-pack year history of smoking. People should ask their doctor if they think they might qualify for screening.”

girl-with-chest-xrayIn addition to life-saving screenings, advancements in diagnostics, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery have made significant advancements in recent years.

“Once a lung nodule or tumor has been found through a screening, a biopsy usually has to be done to diagnose it. At Carolina Pulmonary, we have all the latest bronchoscopic tools to do that job, including endobronchial ultrasound, radial ultrasound, electronavigational bronchoscopy and cryoprobe.”

In addition to these technologies, video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) has made surgery for lung cancer safer and recovery time shorter. Stereotactic beam radiation (SBRT) causes fewer side effects from radiation than traditional radiation therapy. And some of the biggest advancements right now are in chemotherapy, with new drugs that target tumors with specific mutations. As an affiliate of Duke Health, Lexington Medical Cancer Center also offers access to cutting-edge clinical trials.

“Patients get some of the best, and quickest, care available right here at Lexington Medical Center,” said Dr. Monk.

Did You Know?
Smoking is the main risk factor for lung cancer, resulting in 85 to 90 percent of lung cancers. Non-smokers can get lung cancer, too.

Additional Risk Factors for Lung Cancer
•Exposure to secondhand smoke
•Contact with radon gas or cancer-causing chemicals, such as asbestos
•Family history of lung cancer

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