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Knowing your Risk for Lung Cancer: March 9, 2019

It’s the number one cause of cancer death in the U.S. “By the time people have symptoms with lung cancer it’s very difficult to deal with,” explained Dr. Keith Miller, a radiation oncologist on the medical staff of Lee Health.

But a new screening is allowing physicians to find lung cancer in the early stages—giving patients a fighting chance. “The screening is a quick cat scan. No needles, no injections, no pain. It’s what’s called a low radiation cat scan, so it’s a quicker, more limited cat scan,” he said.

The once a year screening is ideal for patients who are considered high risk. Patients who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years, need to be screened starting at age 55.

“We’re down in this country to the lowest percentage that we’ve ever been. Only about 14 percent of the population is current smokers,” Dr. Miller said.

But even if patients are now non-smokers, doctors say, if they have a history of smoking, they still need to be screened. “The risk never drops off completely. The longer you go without smoking, the risk of developing lung cancer drops off over time, but never to the point of a non-smoker,” he said.

If patients are already experiencing symptoms, they need to see their physician. “Somebody who has a persistent cough, chest pain, coughing up blood, something’s not right, then it’s a diagnostic evaluation. It’s really not a screening. You’re looking at the person to find out what the source of the problem is,” said Dr. Miller.

The goal is to find lung cancer before a patient experiences symptoms. The earlier patients are diagnosed, the better their outcome.

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