There was a time when lung cancer was only associated with tobacco use. Today, Dr. Raymond Schaerf, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Roy and Patricia Disney Cancer Center, said he’s seeing lung cancers in a growing number of nonsmokers.
Schaerf said the specific reasons why nonsmokers are getting lung cancer at a greater rate is still unknown, but he thinks several known factors in the last couple of decades may be at play.
For starters, better diagnostic tools are catching tumors that may have otherwise gone undetected. Added to this, there’s a growing public awareness of secondhand smoke and a better-educated population helping to diagnose lung cancer earlier when it has the best chance to be cured.
“More people than ever before are aware what it takes to get and stay healthy, and as a result, the public is much more educated today, particularly women. Women are researching health information not only for themselves, but other family members and that is making a difference in our society,” Schaerf said.
The National Cancer Institute estimates one in 14 men and women will be diagnosed with cancer of the lung and bronchus during their lifetime. Smoking is still the most common cause of lung cancer, the National Cancer Institute said.
Smokers, age 50 and older, who have smoked at least 30 pack years — that’s one pack per day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years — are now eligible for lung cancer screening.
The Center’s new lung cancer diagnostic screening program began June 4, 2012. Susan Jacobs, a nurse navigator at Disney Family Cancer Center, said a long-term national study shows smokers who got screened for lung cancer have a lower death rate than those who didn’t. That may be because the new diagnostic tool is much better than the old x-ray technique of identifying potential lung tumors.
“Lung cancer screening is a quick, easy and painless test for long term smokers. It involves a low-dose CT scan and people are in and out in only a few minutes,” Jacobs said.
Besides detecting possible lung cancer tumors, the $350 diagnostic scan also helps identify scar tissue in the lung as well as pre-cancerous lesions.