Don’t neglect lung cancer screening because of COVID-19

Lung cancer
A recent study concludes that 22 million cancer screening tests may be disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent analysis from the IQVIA Institute concludes that 22 million cancer screening tests may be disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the potential for up to 80,000 delayed or missed cancer diagnoses across the United States.

This is particularly concerning considering the statistics surrounding lung cancer and the number of cases potentially going undetected due to the pandemic. According to the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society (ACS), lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in men and women. ACS estimates there will be more than 225,000 new cases of lung cancer this year. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting obstacles in patients receiving diagnoses and treatments.

Spreading awareness about the pervasiveness of lung cancer, especially the importance of screening, is one way we can combat this disease.

Identifying lung cancer early through screening may provide a critical advantage to patients, especially those with heightened risk. A recent study concludes that patients with localized disease have survival rates as high as 55 percent, but only 16 percent of patients get diagnosed at this stage of their disease. This difference in survival rates further illustrates the need for a reliable screening tool for patients at risk for lung cancer.

Because prioritizing chances of survival is critical, people should get a low-dose CT (LDCT) scan if they:

  • Are between 50 to 80 years old
  • Have a current or past 20 pack-year smoking history (with pack years measured by the number of packs smoked per day multiplied by the number of years smoked)
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years
  • Have other risk factors (history of smoking-related cancers, asbestos or radon exposure, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis or a relative with history of lung cancer)

With a low-dose CT scan, an X-ray machine scans the body with low doses of radiation to capture detailed pictures of the lungs. Regular chest X-rays have been used to screen for lung cancer. However, studies have shown LDCT scans increase overall survivability compared to chest X-rays.

In addition to being aware of your risk for the disease, including such factors as smoking, radon exposure and workplace carcinogens, it’s important to stay in tune with your body and pay attention to subtle changes. That includes being aware of these symptoms of lung cancer:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse
  • Cough that produces blood or rust-colored spit or phlegm
  • Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tired or weak feeling
  • Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
  • New onset of wheezing

Though we’ve seen a viral pandemic sprawl across our nation, we must remain aware that cancer doesn’t wait for COVID-19. Skipping preventive screenings, annual check-ups or other health care appointments may negatively affect the detection and diagnosis of harmful diseases. Being proactive about managing your health during this uncertain time can help make a substantial difference when it comes to cancer prevention, care and survivorship. Talk with your doctor about screening, risk factors and symptoms, so together as patient and physician, you can make informed decisions.

Learn more about diagnostic tests and treatment for lung cancer.