In the lung cancer screening zone

Blog02PharmaAdvantage-Reviewing-Chest-X-RayJust because you have never smoked does not mean that this often-devastating disease shouldn’t be on your radar. At the heart of all lung cancer is a mutation in the DNA that can affect cells in the body as they reproduce. Over time, exposure to harmful substances such as cigarette smoke, asbestos and radon can gradually damage the lungs’ cell lining, making them vulnerable to lung cancer.

Companies like Pharmacy Advantage, a specialty pharmacy in Troy, Mich., understand how important it is for individuals to identify any form of cancer early, while conditions are still treatable. However, as there are often no signs to indicate to a patient that anything is amiss, catching it at the start can come down to screening.

At heightened risk
In addition to smokers, those who have a close family member such as a parent, sibling, grandparent or aunt or uncle who at some point received a lung cancer diagnosis are at slightly higher risk of the disease, even if they have never tried a cigarette.

Those who have had past lung conditions such as tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and even bronchitis also fall into this category. This is also true for those who have been treated for other cancers with radiation therapy, something that makes those who smoke particularly vulnerable.

People who live or work with smokers are also in jeopardy. Inhaling secondhand smoke can raise your risk for lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent, according to the Lung Cancer Alliance.1

What’s more, environmental factors, such as exposure to the odorless, colorless gas radon that has been known to seep into buildings, can also put those who don’t smoke at risk. So can asbestos in building materials that have been disturbed, as well as exposure to other chemicals.

Considering screening measures
Screening can potentially help to find lung cancer at still treatable stages. There are now three different tests that researchers have studied to determine whether they can put patients at lower risk of death from lung cancer. These include a low-dose spiral CT scan (LDCT), a chest X-ray and sputum cytology.

With the LDCT test, a detailed picture of the lungs is generated by an X-ray machine, which scans the body using low-dose radiation. This is currently the only recommended screening test for lung cancer. It has been proven to find early-stage lung cancer in smokers and to decrease the risk of dying from this.

Meanwhile, with a chest X-ray, pictures of the lungs can be made with the aid of an energy beam that travels through the body onto film. Using sputum cytology, a microscope is used to view mucous coughed up from the lungs for cancer cells. While both these tests can determine whether a patient currently has lung cancer, neither has been shown to have, like the LDCT, the life-saving ability to identify the disease in its early stages.

Because screening tests can represent risks themselves, like radiation exposure, they are not recommended for everyone. Health programs like Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York urge smokers between the ages of 55 and 74, with no cancer but consumers of at least one pack a day for 30 years, to get an LDCT scan of the chest once a year for a total of three years.

Others who fall into high-risk groups should check with their doctors to see if lung cancer screening is right for them.