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Never too early to get checked for lung cancer

(Jon Jaehnig/For the Gazette) Lung cancer awareness is important because the condition seldom presents recognizable symptoms in early stages. At UPHS-Portage, low dose CT scans (procedure pictured above) are used to screen at risk individuals to catch.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. However, it would be hard not to be aware of lung cancer. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality in the U.S. Each year, 230,000 people are diagnosed and 140,000 die of lung cancer. In the three-county area served by UP Health System – Portage, there are 35 to 40 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year, according to UPHS – Portage cancer care expert Dr. Lloyd Geddes.

While many of us know someone affected by lung cancer, there is much about the disease that many people do not know.

There are two kinds of lung cancer, small cell, and non-small cell. Small cell lung cancer is more aggressive and is often treated with chemotherapy and or radiation therapy. Non-small cell is less aggressive and can usually be removed via surgery. A combination of both kinds of lung cancer can be treated through multi-modal treatment – a combination of two or more of the above treatments.

“We offer chemotherapy, screening and tests, and smoking cessation help here at UPHS – Portage,” said Geddes. “Through partnership with our sister hospital in Marquette, we can give patients access to surgery and radiation treatment.”

While lung cancer does have a genetic component, most lung cancer is related to first hand or second hand tobacco smoke exposure. This gives care providers a handy way to detect lung cancer early on.

“What we have been able to do is develop a screening program,” said Dr. Geddes.

The screening program consists of a low dose CT scan for older smokers and long-term smokers. This helps to catch lung cancer early, which would be difficult otherwise due to its lack of easily identifiable symptoms.

“The unfortunate thing about lung cancer is that there aren’t a lot of early-presenting symptoms,” said Geddes.

Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, a fever, and weight loss – all vague symptoms that the average person might ignore unless they persist for a long time or begin to harm the individual’s quality of life. By the time that one of the most recognizable symptoms – bloody sputum – is noticed, the cancer has often developed to such a stage that successful mitigation is difficult. That doesn’t mean that there is no hope.

“For patients with later stage lung cancer, we’ve identified a number of newer treatments looking at particular biomarkers,” said Geddes. “As we use these new medications, we’ve been able to prolong patient survival and increase quality of life.”

Because the best way to prevent lung cancer is to avoid or end tobacco use, the best option for tobacco users is to explore options for smoking cessation. Options offered through UPHS – Portage include nicotine substitutes such as patches or gums, medicines, and addiction counseling. Individuals can also reduce their risk of lung and other cancers through exercise, healthy diet, and adequate sleep.

For more information about lifestyle modification, cancer screening, or smoking cessation, talk to your primary care doctor, or visit PortageHealth.org or call 906-483-1000.

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