Lung cancer screenings save lives

Lung cancer can be sneaky. Individuals may write off symptoms commonly associated with other illnesses like coughing, shortness of breath or wheezing, especially during the winter months when respiratory viruses are circulating. By the time the signs progress in frequency or severity, the disease is likely to have advanced, limiting patients' treatment options and the chance of survival.

But with proven early detection tools like low-dose CT scans, we can diagnose lung cancer sooner to improve prognoses. That's why the American Cancer Society's (ACS) updated guidance to expand the lung cancer screening pool is such welcome news.

Lung cancer holds the distinction of being the nation's most lethal cancer and the second most common cancer in both men and women, not counting skin cancer. ACS notes that more people die from the disease each year than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. While the risk is higher for current and former smokers, lung cancer doesn't discriminate and can affect anyone. In Arkansas, we've witnessed this reality firsthand, with nearly 3,000 residents expected to receive a diagnosis in 2023 alone. Currently, the American Lung Association ranks us 49th for our rate of new cases and in the bottom tier of states for our five-year survival rate.

Fortunately, advances in the detection of lung cancer have--and will continue--to help save lives in Arkansas. Over the last five years, the Lung Association notes that our state's early diagnosis rate improved by 12 percent. At the same time, our survival rate jumped by 20 percent. These figures are predicted to rise even further with the greater deployment of low-dose CT scans, in line with the ACS updated guidance.

In early November, ACS expanded the recommended age for annual lung cancer screenings with low-dose CT scans to current and former smokers 50 to 80 years old--up from 55 to 74. It also removed a previous testing barrier for former smokers. ACS now advises individuals in the designated age range who smoked heavily in the past--approximately 20 pack years--to consider screening, regardless of whether they quit more than 15 years ago. The goal is to help diagnose lung cancer sooner, when it's more likely to be cured. According to research from the National Institutes of Health, low-dose CT scans could help reduce lung cancer deaths by 20 percent.

The recent announcement from ACS is a vital step in promoting lung cancer screenings, including here in Arkansas. In honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, those in our state at the greatest risk of developing lung cancer should consider receiving a low-dose CT scan. Throughout November, individuals can take advantage of Saturday lung cancer screening events from 9-11 a.m. at select CARTI Cancer Centers across the state. Details are available at CARTI.com, including how to schedule a weekday appointment for any time of year. Receiving a low-dose CT scan is quick, easy and saves lives.

Dr. Donald B. Norwood, diagnostic radiologist, is the medical director of imaging services for CARTI, a not-for-profit, multidisciplinary cancer care provider with 18 locations across Arkansas and the state's first dedicated cancer surgery center.