Lung Cancer Awareness Month shines spotlight on need for early detection


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Lung-cancer rates continue to grow throughout the United States, with about 234,000 new cases and about 154,000 deaths in 2018 alone.

Despite how scary these statistics are; the numbers are even worse in the Mahoning Valley.

The most recent data from the Ohio Department of Health shows both Mahoning and Trumbull counties having lung-cancer incident and death rates that are significantly higher than the national average.

“Smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer here in the Mahoning Valley, followed by environmental pollution and radon gas,” said Vanessa Chamberlain, lung-nodule navigator, Mercy Health Lung Nodule Center.

These high numbers have prompted Mercy Health – Youngstown to develop treatment and education programs and services centered on early detection, which includes lung cancer screenings.

These noninvasive screenings use low-dose radiation to examine the heart and lungs for abnormal spots called nodules.

Nodules in and of themselves are not necessarily a problem, so it’s important for trained clinicians to monitor them over time, looking for growth or other changes.

At least 50 percent of the general population – smokers and non-smokers alike – have nodules by the time they reach age 50. Ninety-five percent of these lung nodules, however, are not cancerous.

“But all lung cancer starts as a nodule,” Chamberlain said.

Annual lung-cancer screenings are recommended for patients between 55 and 80 years old who have a history of heavy smoking, or those who currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years.

Age 55 is usually when lung cancer will start developing, according to national data.

“The sad fact is 40 percent of patients with lung cancer are diagnosed in stage IV because they’re not screened at the recommended age,” Chamberlain said. “At stage IV, there’s a low survival rate and very few treatment options.”

The earlier lung cancer is detected, the more options open up for treatment or potentially a cure.

Currently, the five-year survival rate for people with stage I lung cancer is 49 percent. Rates may even be higher for people who have lung cancer detected by screening alone, which can be as high as 90 percent.

“That’s why it’s so important to screen for small nodules,” Chamberlain said. “We can find them and depending on their size, do follow-up scans to be sure they’re not growing.”

If a nodule larger than 6 millimeters is found, a patient is then referred to a pulmonologist for further testing at the Mercy Health Lung Nodule Center.

Along with screenings, Mercy Health helps prevent lung-cancer deaths with a comprehensive approach to care and treatment by being the only regional facility to offer lung-nodule navigators who are with patients every step of the way.

Additionally, the Mercy Health- Youngstown Regional Tobacco Treatment Center is a resource available to those who need help kicking their smoking habit. The center offers a smoking cessation program that aims to address physical and emotional needs of participants in an effort to help them quit smoking.

Overall, the staff at Mercy Health strives to outline the risks that continued smoking presents.

“We tell patients if you continue to smoke, we cannot guarantee a nodule won’t turn cancerous,” Chamberlain said. “We try everything we can to get patients to stop smoking.”

For information on lung-cancer screenings, call 330-480-3433 or visit mercy.com.

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