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The Voice of the Black Community


Lung cancer is a No. 1 killer
More education, research funding needed
Published Thursday, November 14, 2013 9:03 am
by Charlene Price-Patterson

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the No.1 cancer killer. It kills more people than breast, colon, pancreas and prostate cancers combined. Each year, about 160,000 people die from lung cancer.  It’s the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Anyone can get lung cancer.

Unfortunately, lung cancer research is underfunded. According to the National Institutes of Health, the government spent $26,398 per breast cancer death while spending only $1,442 per lung cancer death in 2012. Some people believe that part of the problem is the stigma associated with the disease. 

Uniting Against Lung Cancer, reports that three out of four people have a negative bias against lung cancer and that negative bias is blocking efforts to find a cure. Their findings include research to support the following: one of out five lung cancer victims never smoked and three out of five do not smoke. Also, 67 percent of people associate lung cancer with shame and 75% associate it with hopelessness. 

Until a disease impacts your life (or the life of a loved one) … it may not get your full attention. That was the case in our family.  In October of 2002, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Six months later, she passed away from the disease. It was a devastating.  

My mother had not smoked for 25 years before she was diagnosed. She also worked in an environment with second-hand smoke for several years. In order to help our mother, who lived in Buffalo, N.Y., my siblings and I quickly learned as much as we could about lung cancer. Together, we explored treatment options, including clinical trials.  In my mother’s case, the diagnosis came too late to explore all of the treatment options.

 Lung cancer is called the silent killer, because by the time it is diagnosed, it is often too late to stop it. The ALA reports that most lung cancer cases aren’t diagnosed until later stages, when the survival rate is only 3.9 percent. Only 15 percent of lung cancer cases are found in the early stages, when the survival rate is 53.5 percent.  

 This cancer forms in the tissues of the lung, usually in the cells lining air passages. There are two types of lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for about 80% of lung cancer cases. It generally spreads slowly to other organs in the body and can be difficult to detect in early stages. Small cell lung cancer spreads rapidly and accounts for about 20 percent of lung cancers.

Symptoms of lung cancer can include coughing, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite, coughing blood, fatigue and recurring infections. Signs of advanced stages include bone pain, headache, dizziness, limbs that become weak or numb, swelling of face, arms, neck, jaundice, and lumps in neck or collarbone region. The earlier you get treatment, the better your chances to fight it.

Treatments for lung cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Some patients also try medications and clinical trials. 

Risk factors for lung cancer include smoking, age (two of three cases are diagnosed in people over 65), genetics and lifestyle, including second-hand smoke, exposure to asbestos and other pollutants, and exposure to radon. To learn more about your specific risk, go to: www.atriskforlungcancer.org. 

Some hospitals also offer free risk assessments. Locally, Novant Health has a clinical trial coordinator to help assess risk and determine if you are eligible to participate in a clinical trial. One of the many trial benefits is a discounted fee for the CT scan (go to: www.novanthealth.org/screeningct). If a lung nodule is detected, Novant Health has a program to help catch it before it becomes cancerous (go to: www.presbyterian.org/lungnodule).    

If you have concerns or questions, talk to a physician. But, it’s also important to do your own research. Getting a spiral CT scan is very important in detecting lung cancer. If our family had been educated about that procedure earlier, it could potentially have been life saving.  

The Lung Cancer Alliance is the only national non-profit organization dedicated solely to providing support and advocacy for people living with or at-risk for the disease. They provide education, resources, educational materials, support groups, clinical trial matching services and more. They also lobby for legislation and research funding to help eradicate the disease. 

The LCA has launched a national effort to get every state to support lung cancer through "Shine a Light on Lung Cancer" license plates. So far, only Massachusetts passed legislation to approve the project. The effort requires coordination of state legislators, the DMV and volunteers.  To learn more about this and other projects contact the LCA.

Hopefully, November won’t be the only time to learn about lung cancer.  Being proactive about your health is good idea all year long.

Learn more about lung cancer by going to:     

UnitingAgainstLungCancer.org – 212-627-5500

LungCancerAlliance.org – 1-800-298-2436

National Institutes of Health -  www.NIH.GOV – 1-888-624-1937

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention  - www.CDC.GOV – 1-800-232-4636    

American Lung Association – www.LUNG.ORG – 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872)

My.LungCancerSupport.Org – Designed by the ALA for patients with lung cancer and care givers

Forsyth Regional Hospital (affiliated with Novant) in Winston Salem will host free low-dose CT screenings for lung cancer during the month of November. You must be 55 or older, be a current or former smoker who quit smoking within the past 15 years, must have a 30 pack a year smoking history and have a referring physician. Call 336-794-9729.

Charlene Price-Patterson is a freelance writer in Charlotte.



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