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Dr. Robert Kanterman, St. Luke's Hospital

Lung cancer screening for those at high risk

There has been some disturbing news about the fight against lung cancer. The American Lung Association reports that lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in women, with the number of women falling victim to this disease rising 106 percent in the last 33 years. Many do not know that lung cancer claims the lives of nearly twice as many women as breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates 72,590 women will die from lung cancer this year, and it estimates about 39,510 will die from breast cancer this year.

In addition, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, lung cancer death rates for middle-aged women in the Midwest are actually rising. Researchers correlate this with the fact that many women may have been influenced by the social trends of the 60s and 70s when smoking was more socially acceptable.

Recently, studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the New England Journal of Medicine have validated lung cancer screening for high-risk individuals, which can reduce lung cancer deaths by 20 percent.

Physician-led and medical advocacy organizations are recommending screening for those most susceptible. High-risk individuals are classified as those who currently smoke or previously smoked, are between the ages of 55 and 75, have a smoking history of at least 30 pack-years (meaning one pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc.) and have no previous lung cancer diagnosis.

The screening uses a non-invasive, low dose CT scan, which gives a detailed report about the size and shape of lung abnormalities, often in the form of "spots" or nodules. The nodules are then analyzed, and follow-up or treatment plans are established.

Lung cancer can be caused by any number of factors including smoking (as well as secondhand smoke), genetics, radon exposure, occupational hazards, previous lung disease diagnosis, dietary factors and air pollution. The single best way to prevent lung cancer deaths (and to provide a myriad of other health benefits) is smoking cessation. If you are currently a smoker, I strongly urge you to find a way to stop smoking.

Dr. Robert Kanterman is the chief of radiology at St. Luke's Hospital, and he specializes in interventional radiology. For more information about lung cancer screening, call 314-205-6565.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on December 27, 2012.