Commentary: Knowing your risks vital to surviving lung cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death around the world, but it can be treated effectively if those most susceptible know their risk.

To help individuals understand lung cancer and if they are at risk, Griffin Hospital will host "Lung Cancer: Know Your Risks, Know Your Options" on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. in the hospital's Meditation and Learning Center, 130 Division St., Derby. The session is free and open to the public.

Presented by Dr. K. Marya Chaisson, a pulmonary specialist, and Dr. Richard P. Salzano, a thoracic and vascular surgeon, it will focus on the causes of lung cancer, its warning signs, and screening and treatment options.

Attendees will be able to take a free evaluation to see if they are at high risk for lung cancer and may be eligible to receive a free low-dose CT lung cancer screening at Griffin Hospital.

Diagnosis often comes too late

The statistics for lung cancer are staggering. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 159,480 deaths in 2013 due to lung cancer — this represents 27% of all cancer deaths.

Lung cancer overtook breast cancer in the late 1980s as the leading cancer killer among U.S. women and now claims more lives than breast, ovarian and cervical cancers combined.

One of the reasons lung cancer is so deadly is that there are little to no symptoms until the cancer has progressed into the later — and less treatable — stages.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, more than 85% of the men and women diagnosed with lung cancer are diagnosed in the late stage when the survival rate is very low. If the cancer is found in Stage I, the study found that 88% of the individuals diagnosed lived for 10 or more years.

Should you get screened?

The key to finding cancer at the earliest stage is not only knowing the symptoms, but also taking stock of your lifestyle.

It's no secret that smoking causes lung cancer. Approximately 87% of all lung cancer deaths can be attributed to smoking, and each year about 3,400 nonsmoking adults die from lung cancer as a result of breathing second-hand smoke.

Other risk factors include occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos, metals (such as chromium, cadmium and arsenic), some organic chemicals, radiation, air pollution, diesel exhaust, paint; and exposure during work in rubber manufacturing, paving, roofing and chimney sweeping.

Longtime, heavy smokers and those who have been exposed to these environmental factors over a long period of time could benefit from early detection options, including X-rays, CT scans and needle aspirations.

CT scans can catch problems early

A recent clinical trial by the National Lung Screening Research Team found that individuals at high risk for lung cancer could decrease their chance of lung cancer death by 20% if given regular low-dose CT scans.

Griffin Hospital recently launched its Low-Dose CT Lung Cancer Screening Program, offering free scans to individuals who are at high risk for lung cancer.

To register for the Nov. 19 session or for more information, call 203-732-1511. The session is part of Griffin Hospital's Healthy U "Tuesday Talks," a series of free wellness talks featuring Griffin Hospital medical experts and community partners.

Christian Meagher is a communications specialist at Griffin Hospital in Derby.