What You Should Know About Lung Cancer Screening

What You Should Know About Lung Cancer Screening

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the country. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2024 there will be approximately 234,580 new lung cancer cases and 125,070 deaths. Historically lung cancer affected more men than women because of smoking patterns, but a study published in the International Journal of Cancer revealed that women between the ages of 30-49 are being diagnosed with higher rates of lung cancer than men. In fact, lung cancer diagnoses in women have risen by 84% in the last two decades while dropping 36% in men in that period.

The majority of lung cancer cases aren’t detected until symptoms appear and by then the disease has spread outside of the lungs in up to 30% of patients and is difficult to treat. For the best possible outcomes, lung cancer needs to be detected early. The U.S. National Institutes of Health report that a low-dose CT scan can detect lung cancers in their early stages and can reduce deaths from lung cancer by up to 20%.

Matthew Reinersman, M.D., is a thoracic surgeon specializing in robotic surgery and the treatment of lung cancer at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center. He also serves as the director of the Lung Cancer Screening Clinic and advocates for early screening as an important tool in decreasing the lung cancer death rate.

Q&A with Dr. Matthew Reinersman

What is lung cancer screening?

Lung cancer screening involves an imagining exam with low-dose CT scan (LDCT) that tests for lung cancer when there are no symptoms. The LDCT takes a highly detailed picture of the lungs and is painless, quick and non-invasive. The scan continuously spins in a spiral motion and takes 3-dimensional images of the lungs that can identify abnormalities as small as a grain of rice. The test itself takes only a few minutes and no preparation is required other than changing into a gown and removing jewelry.

At what age should lung cancer screening start and who should be screened?

Annual screening is recommended for people between the ages of 50 and 80 who have smoked at least a pack a day for 20 years or longer and still smoke, or were smokers within the past 15 years.

Adults who have had prolonged exposure to asbestos, radon gas, air pollution or secondhand cigarette smoke should also see their physician for screening advice.

Are there are early signs of lung cancer?

Unfortunately, lung cancer symptoms don’t usually appear until the disease is at an advanced stage. Some of the signs are overlooked as they can be attributed to an infection or the effects of smoking, such as a cough that doesn’t go away or is recurring despite being treated by antibiotics, tightness in the chest and breathing or coughing that are painful. It’s really important that any of these signs are checked by a physician.

The rate of new lung cancer cases in Oklahoma is significantly higher than the national rate and we rank 41st in the country. Why are our rates so high?

Oklahoma’s overall lung and bronchus cancer rate is 28% higher than the national average and lung cancer is the leading cause of death in our state. The smoking rate in the U.S. is 15% and Oklahoma’s smoking rate is 19%, which is significantly higher than other states. Another factor is that only 2% of Oklahomans who are considered high-risk for lung cancer are receiving early screening.

Access to high-quality healthcare and screening is a problem in under-resourced communities and minority populations that we are taking steps to improve. The mortality rates among American Indians in Oklahoma are 50-99% higher for lung cancer and Stephenson Cancer Center is working to improve screening strategies in rural communities.

What advice would you give to people to prevent lung cancer?

There are some cases where lung cancer is not caused by influences like smoking, and this is especially so in young women. These can be the result of genetic mutations that go undetected. However, as a general rule I would recommend:

  • Don’t smoke — if you do, get help to give up.
  • Avoid second-hand smoke — if you live with a smoker, urge them to smoke outside.
  • Test your home for radon.
  • Avoid carcinogens.
  • Eat a varied diet with fresh produce and limit highly-processed foods.
  • Exercise for at least 20 minutes a day, five days per week.

Those tips are helpful in maintaining good health and avoiding a range of illnesses and diseases.

What should you do if you are diagnosed with lung cancer or have a spot on your lung that is concerning?

If you have a suspicious spot on your lung, find a center that can offer comprehensive options to obtain a biopsy in the safest and most efficient manner. At Stephenson Cancer Center we have options that can combine diagnosis, staging and sometimes even treatment, into one procedure.

If you have lung cancer, explore your options and seek multiple opinions.

Many patients are not aware that minimally-invasive robotic surgery can be an option, which allows for a quicker recovery and return to activities they enjoy sooner. Importantly, robotic surgery allows us to offer surgery to more patients that may not be a candidate otherwise.

Request an Appointment

Call to schedule a lung screening and learn more about
lung cancer services at OU Health.

Call (405) 271-5864

Request an Appointment - Call to schedule a lung screening and learn more about lung cancer services at OU Health.

Call (405) 271-5864