Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. In fact, more people die every year from lung cancer than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.
J. Tyler Van Backer, MD, thoracic surgeon with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at The Hospital of Central Connecticut, answers four common questions about lung cancer screenings.
Can non-smokers get lung cancer?
“Traditionally, we think that only smokers are diagnosed with lung cancer, but that’s not true,” says Dr. Van Backer. “About 10 to 20 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer were not smokers. Exposure to second-hand smoke, asbestos, diesel exhaust and radon can increase a person’s risk for lung cancer.”
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What symptoms should I watch out for?
According to Dr. Van Backer, lung cancer doesn’t usually display symptoms early on. However, once the disease progresses, that’s when symptoms become more visible.
“Patients will start to notice a persistent cough, weight loss, chest pain, shortness of breath and coughing up blood,” says Dr. Van Backer. “If anyone is experiencing these symptoms, they should see their doctor.”
Do I qualify for screening?
Hartford HealthCare has lung screening for patients who meet specific qualifications. You must be between 50 and 80 years old and smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day or more for 20 years. Anyone who qualifies must talk to their healthcare provider so they can be referred for the lung screening.
“Screening for lung cancer is an essential part of preventative care – similar to what we see with mammograms and colonoscopies,” Dr. Van Backer explains.
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How does screening work?
The Hospital of Central Connecticut is using technology, known as the Monarch Platform by Auris Health. Using a device similar to a gaming controller, Dr. Van Backer navigates a flexible, robotic endoscope with a camera all the way to the edge of the lung. This technology allows for more precision to access and biopsy lung nodules and diagnose them as cancer, infection or inflammation.
“The Monarch lays out a GPS coordinated system that helps me navigate directly to the nodule in question,” says Dr. Van Backer. “We are able to access areas of the lung that were sometimes more difficult to get to in the past. By doing this, we can diagnose lung cancer earlier than ever before and that translates into better outcomes for patients.”